Point of view – Denise Bombardier and courage

The author is a professor of literature in Montreal, contributor to the journal Argument and essayist. He notably published These words that think for us (Liber, 2017) and Why do our children leave school ignorant? (Boreal, 2008).

Like many Quebecers, I only knew Denise Bombardier through her public appearances, and she embodied in my eyes a quality that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s media and cultural world: courage.

We claim, of course, like all societies past and future, to honor courage, but we actually love courageous acts only when they don’t challenge the status quo. Entering a house on fire is eminently courageous and requires a great deal of self-sacrifice on the part of whoever dares it, but that does not call anything into question. We can then give him a medal, which he has, moreover, duly deserved.

But there is another courage which is much less unanimous, it is the courage to assume one’s convictions; it is this courage embodied by Denise Bombardier and which earned her the ambiguous titles of “polemicist” or “controversial” media personality, as if the only valid public word was that which achieved broad consensus. This courage, which she illustrated throughout her life, consists in not hesitating to go against the tide if you sincerely believe that things are not going or are no longer going in the right direction. wish. Stop paying the price.

Indeed, such courage does not wait for success; he doesn’t count the likes. It is about conviction. The brave do not hesitate to go against their own interests, as well as those of their camp or their corporation or their tribe. The mainspring of this courage is indeed what dictates to us, deep within us, what we must do or not do, say or not say, in order to remain ourselves. It is the fruit of consciousness. Courageous is someone who is determined from within and not totally subject to the influences of what surrounds him. This one acts because he cannot do otherwise, at least if he wants to continue to be able, as they say, to look at himself in a mirror. If it sometimes arouses them, true courage claims neither success nor applause. He is most of the time exposed to contempt and shrugs. It even happens that we are not grateful to him for having been right too soon.

These last remarks are one of the reasons why we now live in societies that are both courageous and deeply discouraged. The image in the mirror to which we trust and to which we teach our children, from an early age, to identify, is the one sent back to us by the approving crowd that manifests itself in particular on social networks. The only ideal that remains is that of achievement and success, both of which need — but this is, of course, a somewhat hypocritical and self-serving need — the approval of others. A whole school of conformism! And cowardice…

Turn against the pack

This pusillanimity of the majority, or even this retreat of the individual into a well-protected self, makes our societies not only societies without courage, but also without projects, which allow themselves to be carried away by a carelessness which looks more and more like an abdication and a fatal slope. It is this pusillanimity and self-conceit that also leave room for the loudest activists, who are also often those who defend the most insane ideas.

Courage consists in fact in not accepting that things simply go without saying, that the future is already written; it encourages us to refuse fatalities, to dare to say no to those who want to dictate to everyone a future to their advantage, but which the rest of the population does not necessarily want. Without courage, there is no shared world or truly human world, because a human world is a world that we build freely. And without courage, freedom is worth nothing.

However, this courage can only be individual. At the moment of decision, the individual who shows courage is always alone. He knows or at least he suspects that no one will intervene in his place. He refuses, in other words, to hide behind the peaceful anonymity which is at the source of many acts of cowardice, from the most banal to the most atrocious.

However, he is also aware that being yourself does not consist in worshiping a self-satisfied and demanding ego before which everything should bend. The human soul, the spirit, the self – let’s call it what we like – draws its strength and its identity from something other than itself, from an ideal, a set of convictions and values, a morality in the absence of which the individual only serves his own selfish interest, which rarely demands that we take others the wrong way and the world as it is failing.

To react with courage, one must be able to perceive what, in this world, can be revolting, even downright unacceptable. You have to know how to oppose.

But to say no is not to howl with the wolves either, as we like to do so much today, believing in a very illusory way that lynching, even of proven culprits, brings proof of our virtue. Contrary to small-time insulters who usually attack in gangs, Denise Bombardier knew how to turn against the pack and stand up to them when needed. Her courage in standing up for her beliefs and her outspokenness will be missed. Let’s hope that the great lady that she was continues, collectively, to inspire us.

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