HOME HEARTSTRING 3: SIMPLICITY

Simplicity is simple, and Joe knows that. “My parents were happy their whole lives because they were simple people who didn’t complicate things and never really let anything get to them.”

In his 1928 book Mentalité canadienne française (The French Canadian Mentality), Frenchman Georges Vattier wrote:


“Canadians have always been known to be frugal. The dominant theme across the province – for the rich as well as the poor – is still simplicity. The humble origins of the first settlers and the living conditions they were subjected to in their new country definitely led to Canadians having simple tastes and adopting a simple way of life. In the beginning, they had to make due with very little indeed.”


In mass communications, when you want to say “It’s a nice day” you simply say, “It’s a nice day.” For anyone trying to get a message across, whether it’s through a commercial, drama series or speech, the key is to always follow the beginning-middle-end type of structure. And if at all possible, it’s best to stick to one main topic of discussion and keep repeating it, and to use 100 voices to give the same speech, like the priests who read the bishop’s pastoral letter from their pulpits.

But simple doesn’t mean simplistic, cheesy or pedestrian. Simplicity is a good quality to have. Quebecers don’t complicate things. We’re very straightforward. All we need is something to eat, and something to wear.

Quebec writers like Damase Potvin, Léo-Paul Desrosiers, Félix-Antoine Savard and Roger Lemelin have introduced us to simple characters. It’s obvious the life of Canadians as described in their works is hard and full of sacrifice, but they accept it, make it part of their daily routine and learn to find a certain kind of happiness in it. As the 18th century Swedish botanist and explorer Pehr Kalm confirmed in Voyages en Amérique (Travels in America) at the beginning of the colony, “...they are nevertheless always in a cheerful and playful mood despite their situation.” This simplicity has often been misinterpreted as resignation.

In Les Canadiens français d’après le roman contemporain (French Canadians in Contemporary Novels), Eleanor Michel from Université Laval writes:


“Aside from the pleasure they get from working, they seek simple distractions like getting together, talking, telling stories, playing games that aren’t too tricky (croquet and checkers), singing…playing uncomplicated instruments like the harmonica, bones, Jew’s harp or spoons.”


Isn’t this the same life our parents and grandparents had?

In communications, fake or condescending simplicity used in any type of content is quickly spotted by those who resonate with Heartstring 3 and who dislike people who write and speak fancy, show off or purposely dumb down what they’re trying to say in an attempt to better connect with their audience.

But the good kind of simplicity also has its enemies in Quebec, and they are the people who complicate things. One writer even goes so far as to discuss the alienation of simplicity. That’s a fancy way of putting it.

When René Lévesque was at the chalkboard on Point de mire (CBC current events TV program), he was a simple man talking in simple terms to simple people in order to explain things that were often very complicated.

Joe Tremblay thinks Lévesque is probably the most educated Quebecer there is, but we still get what he’s saying. Same thing with Social Credit Party leader, Réal Caouette, who might not be as educated as Lévesque but is a lot funnier.

Simplicity is the key to successful communications. And after testing all the other options out there, the best communicators always go back to the simple ways on professional instinct.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.