Audacity & Resilience: Preparing to Make Difficult Compromises
Manon Barbeau: Hi, I am Manon Barbeau, 2017 Trudeau Foundation Mentor. Thank you for joining us for Brave Spaces, a new podcast series that encourages us to reflect on the situations and challenges we face every day and to step out of our comfort zone. I hope you are as eager as I am to hear from our guests, members of the Trudeau Foundation community, and find out more about their rich and diverse experiences. Welcome to the plurality of perspectives. Welcome to our Brave Spaces. (music)
Manon Barbeau: Hello, dear listeners, I am pleased to welcome you to this first episode of this Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation podcast. I’m Manon Barbeau, filmmaker, co-founder of Wapikoni Mobile and founder of Musique Nomade, travelling studios that go to First Nations communities to give them a voice. I also have the honour of being a Mentor at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, an independent organization for good that supports the development of Engaged Leaders who are motivated to turn their ideas into action for the advancement of communities across Canada and around the world. The first episode of our new podcast, Brave Spaces – and you will see today that it truly is one - is on the theme Audacity & Resilience, and the question of the day, which I find amusing, is: What is the failure you are most proud of? And to answer that question, two extraordinary women, members of the Foundation community with impressive track records: Nathalie Des Rosiers, a 2020 mentor, and Caroline Leblanc, a 2019 Scholar. Hello to both of you!
Nathalie Des Rosiers: Hello.
Caroline Leblanc: Hello.
Manon Barbeau: Nathalie Des Rosiers, you have an impressive track record. You are the principal of Massey College. A former member of the provincial parliament for Ottawa-Vanier, the General Counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the focus of your work for several years has been constitutional law and women's law.
Caroline, I have known you for quite some time. Caroline Leblanc, a doctoral student in community health at the Université de Sherbrooke's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, works to develop interventions that help the homeless population find resources and reduce risks to their health. Nathalie, Caroline, thank you very, very much for being with us. It is now your turn to answer the question of the day, which is about a part of your life that was maybe a little harder, before you began this remarkable journey. What did that challenging moment look like? What is the failure you are most proud of? Nathalie, do you want to start?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: Sure! And obviously picking just one was a little more difficult for me because in a long life -- and I'm older than Caroline-- we accumulate a lot of failures. So which one am I the proudest of? I'm going to talk about the one that had the greatest significant influence in my life, the 15 years I spent working for an institution that had rejected me basically, that for 15 years had undermined me a bit, had identified me as someone who wasn’t successful, who didn’t have what it takes to be successful. When I finished graduate school in the United States, I fell in love with someone who lived in London, Ontario. I am Francophone, I spoke some English, but it was not phenomenal, and I was in love. I decided to apply for a professor position at Western University in Ontario and they rejected me. So, at first I failed and in order to stay in London with my partner, I had to start a private practice. Eventually I ended up at Western, they recruited me, but for about 15 years I was really in an environment that didn't give me much of a chance. I had problems securing tenure, I was never promoted to any position. Years later, I went on to become dean on two occasions, president of this and that. But in London, at that time, it was an environment that didn't see me as a leader, that didn't see me as having the potential to accomplish much. It was a painful failure. But we're going to talk later about all the strategies we can develop to survive, even if we end up being there for a long time. I was there for 15 years, so I had to find all sorts of strategies to help me accept this job and this life.
Manon Barbeau: Nathalie, can you identify the culmination of this failure? A significant event that stirred up an emotion strong enough to serve as a trigger?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: Eventually, when I was teaching part-time, eventually they said, "Why don't you come on full-time?" And when I went back to see them, they said, "Well, yeah, we need a woman who, uh, we need a French-speaking woman." And then let's just say it wasn't a commitment, it wasn't a commitment that really left a feeling of success. I really had the impression that I was the symbolic Francophone, the symbolic woman, a bit of a token, what we would call a perfect example of tokenism. So, I had to make a decision: Am I taking this job in a context where they don't really seem to want me much and won’t give me the appropriate support for my success? Should I take it? And eventually I decided to take it, I decided that I did not want to lose my voice and I was going to do the best I could to show them that I was capable.
Manon Barbeau: Caroline, can you tell us about that part of your life, at the beginning, when it didn't necessarily seem like you were destined for success?
Caroline Leblanc: In fact, my biggest failure was believing in the systems that saw me as socially maladjusted. All my life, I experienced failures related to that because people viewed me as someone who, a bit like Nathalie just said, doesn’t have the potential to accomplish much. We can see that part of our stories overlap despite the differences. But when you're young, when you're a teenager, when you feel the impact of institutional violence at an age where you are still building your identity, and that institutional violence is the only reference point you have, it can make you believe a vision of yourself that you're not. So, I came to believe what these institutions thought of me. And for me, it was one of the biggest failures, but today I can recognize it is a source of pride. And I'll talk more about that a little later.
Manon Barbeau: Can you tell us a little bit more about the context in which you felt discriminated against? What was your day-to-day life and what was the image that was being reflected back on you at that time?
Caroline Leblanc: To begin with, when you're younger and you don't reflect the values and social norms that shape the image of society, you're often stigmatised, sidelined and judged. And it was the case for me with teachers, who would often kick me out of school. Because they would base their decision on appearances. So, I had a rather turbulent journey through the different systems, including youth services.
Manon Barbeau: And tell me Caroline, was there a trigger moment, a moment when you said to yourself, "I've had enough of this," a moment that triggered a strong emotion, which pushed you towards something else?
Caroline Leblanc: What I can say is that from the moment I succeeded in believing that I could exist, that we each have the right to exist and to contribute in our own way to this often unjust and unfair world, I was able to raise my voice and speak out against social inequalities. But this process also didn’t happen on its own. I didn’t just wave a magic wand and life suddenly became nice. This process also happened through the eyes of others. Because when you experience institutional violence, when you are oppressed all your life, you end up not having any confidence in yourself. The fact that people, that certain people believed in me, saw me and saw my potential, and believed in me more than I believed in myself. They gave me opportunities, they opened doors for me, they gave me spaces where I could express myself and have a dialogue with the people who had oppressed me. And it also allowed me to push my own process forward and to say, "Well, I have my place in this society, it is possible to for me to express myself". And that’s when I went to university, an institution that had also pushed me aside. I was in a position where I had to confront, to convince myself that I had to go back to school to finally have a voice, that I wasn't just that girl living on the street. I could also have my place, and have access to knowledge - which by the way everyone should have access to - thanks to institutions that were flexible. But the biggest process I did was really through the eyes of others, who gave me confidence and then believed in me more than I did. So, people like you, Manon!
Manon Barbeau: Yeah, I could tell a lot of stories. But tell me, were you ever in a situation where you needed to make a compromise, a situation where a compromise could help you achieve a goal? Or did you ever face a compromise that you didn’t want to make? Because I know you're not a woman of half-measures, so it's a particularly interesting question to ask you.
Caroline Leblanc: I'm still making compromises. Lots. And I'm moving forward. I've been going to university full time for 12 years now. I've done my bachelor's degree. I didn't even know what a master's degree was. I didn't even know what a PhD was. For me, university was only accessible to the rich. No judgment, but that was the view I had at the time, that it was not for me. When I went back to university, the security guards would come after me because I was always late, and still dressed like someone who might live on the streets. I had to make compromises. I had to go against my values, to feel rejected by the students in the academic community as well. Because as an outsider who shows up, with crazy ideas, who is outside of the norm, who makes people react, I was never afraid to speak my mind, in any context, and I didn't necessarily have the words to say what I wanted to say. In short, I’m still making compromises. But now I have the ability to equip myself and surround myself with people who will drive me, who will support me and who will (inaudible) because I have chosen to use my research as a tool to leverage change. That’s the goal I maintain, and I’ll make the compromises I need to achieve it. I know that I am in a results-based world. I am in a world where the demands have no limits, but I know that there are some, like the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, that gave me a prestigious scholarship so that I could pursue my academic career and believed that my work could leverage positive change. So, I know that, throughout my journey, there are people who support me enough that I can make the necessary compromises to defend the rights of those who still live on the streets. For me, that’s my drive and I will always stay the course. Compromises are made for a reason; they are never made for nothing.
Manon Barbeau: Tell me Nathalie, did you ever have to compromise? Did you ever accept compromises to get where you wanted to go?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: I'm going to start by saying that I really like to listen to the way Caroline describes the idea that these compromises have to lead to a goal. You have to be able to articulate for yourself, "Why are we doing this?” And then to see it from a perspective of generosity, to be generous to others, and say to yourself, "Others have needs and I have to be helpful to them.” So, to see ourselves in the broader context, I think, can help us accept what we need to do. And not to be discouraged because there is so much work to do, so many injustices to address and so many other voices to be heard. When it comes to the compromises I have made, I was often cast in the role of the "token" person. I was often the symbolic woman. I was often the only woman in groups and committees, where I would be given the role of committee secretary. I was often the token French-speaking person even more often. So, I think I decided that, whether I was the token Francophone or the token woman, I was going to accept that because at least I was at the table. And then, I would try to be helpful to the group, but to express myself, to try to use the opportunities as a bit of a springboard to make them understand the importance of including women, the importance of reflecting, of considering the views of Franco-Ontarians. And I think I used that as a place to practice expressing myself in challenging contexts. Another thing is that I would say there were times when I left organizations if their vision was not the same mine. You can't give up your integrity. If it doesn't correspond to your values then I think you have to leave. But I always gave people a chance. I always tried to transform the organization from within before leaving it. I would tell them: "Well, (inaudible) frankly, it will destroy me if I stay there." That was kind of how I saw my life.
Manon Barbeau: So, was there a moment -- there may or may not have been a trigger -- but a moment where you developed strategies to achieve your dreams or ambitions. How did you proceed, from this situation of failure, to build a more satisfying life?
Nathalie Des Rosiers: I think moving away from the idea that life was going to satisfy all your ambitions. You kind of get into a daily management mode. And one of the things that happens in failures, often, is they become internalized. We see ourselves as others see us and then we see, well, "doesn’t speaks English well enough, doesn't write well enough, doesn't write enough, is too slow, teaches inadequately.” In order to survive these constant messages of incompetence, my own strategies were to start getting involved in other things. I started getting involved in activism, social activism, I went to community groups. So, you make your place, and then eventually, you feel that you are doing something useful. There is no lack of injustice in this world, there are always places where you can take action. And, taking action gives us self-confidence. It is also fulfilling: it provides us with a feeling of accomplishment that compensates for the hostile environment where we are from 9 to 5, five days a week. So, the strategy was really to move on. Eventually, when I was able to read more on strategies for resilience, many women had the same reflex and eventually became perceived as leaders because of that strategy. Not because they were recognized at their workplace, which should have supported them, but because they moved on to a different setting. The second small strategy for me is celebration. I remember to recognize the success of others, which can help us see the successes that maybe aren’t recognized in an official way. That helped me a lot. I was part of a group of feminists, and we created our own award that we would give to each other each year. (laughs) And by celebrating what we found valuable or rewarding, we got a bit of a sense of control over our environment.
Manon Barbeau: What about you, Caroline, if you could choose two strategies to share with your peers, or with anyone, in fact, that help you get out of a situation and move forward without getting discouraged?
Caroline Leblanc: Well, I have four. Can I say them?
Manon Barbeau: Even better, go ahead.
Caroline Leblanc: Well, believing in yourself, and if that's not possible, doing it through others, staying close to those who keep you positive and who can help bring you to that place. Remembering where you are, so you know why and how to make the necessary compromises to reach your goal. Always maintaining a spirit of co-construction, of having critiques, but also offering solutions. Because without solutions, our society will stay the same. Recognizing the boundaries or limits of your opponents, those who do not necessarily think like you. Understanding their powerlessness in the face of certain challenges and understanding their way of thinking, so you can bring arguments that makes them reflect and turn them into allies. This is one of the greatest strengths that I think any society can have, and that I try to keep applying the best I can. It is not always easy, but for me, it's important to listen to others as well, and so we can build a fairer society together.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: I was going to add, often it's important to know what frightens the people who oppose you? What are they afraid of? And maybe it can help us go deeper, as Caroline says, to go deeper into their motivations. And sometimes, knowing what scares others helps us think about our own views and strategies.
Manon Barbeau: So, I'll leave you to work together to try to pull together a common strategy. How can we combine your strategies to come up with a strong recommendation that is also universal and could apply to anyone?
Caroline Leblanc: I think there was a point of convergence between our two stories, the potential for accomplishment that was not valued. It would be worth highlighting this convergence between our two stories, which are totally different, but at the same time, we both experienced something similar. And I think we should find a way to do just that, to shine a light on it. Because the crux of our two stories is that people didn't believe in our potential to succeed. And look at us today: we are accomplished, liberated and strong women. I don't know a lot about you, but at the same time from the story I've heard, I think it would be fun to explore that common thread.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: If you push yourself enough, you always reach that place where you are the external person who is not valued. You are not accepted, and you are seen as having no potential. You are judged as being without potential. And then, you have to work a little harder in this case to try to regain your place and not internalise this negative perception. You can’t let it become the way you see yourself.
Caroline Leblanc: Yes.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: This is the most difficult thing.
Caroline Leblanc: But I think we found it there. I think that basically everyone at some point can experience the feeling of not fully realizing their potential to accomplish things. That perception of others should not be internalized, because it alters the perception we have of ourselves. And we always have to remember where we come from, who we are, and to make sure to uphold our own values when we go for our goals.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: And make things progress. Because the grand strategy of oppression is always to convince the people who are “down there” that they have to stay “down there.” And so, internalization is a strategy of oppression. You have to learn to see it, to give it a name.
Caroline Leblanc: And also, to denounce it because those who are “down there” don’t have to stay down. Those who are on top have to share their power.
Nathalie Des Rosiers: And so if, as an individual, you are able to name it, to denounce it and not be defined by this strategy of negativity and oppression, then already, that is a way to resist.
Caroline Leblanc: That's very well said Nathalie, I couldn't say it any better.
Manon Barbeau: That was deep and very rich. I won't even attempt to summarize it. In any case, thank you very much. And I celebrate you. I find that you are two women who were labeled. Nathalie as a woman and a Francophone in an academic environment that was essentially male and anglophone. Caroline, you as a so-called “misfit” compared to, I don't know what. Because where is the norm? You've both had to fight against labels, against exclusion because of that label. You have developed your own strategies to achieve your ambitions and dreams. You both have an admirable track record. I feel it and I mean it. You are truly models of Audacity & Resilience. Bravo! You really, truly, sincerely have my admiration. And I thank the listeners for being here and for listening to these two incredible women. This was our first podcast and I'll see you next month for the next one. Thank you.
Manon Barbeau: This concludes this episode of Brave Spaces. I hope you were touched by the stories, the reflections, and the conversations of our guests. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest news from members of our community. And of course, subscribe to our podcast. I hope this episode has inspired you to be brave for the next one.