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  • Leslie Morgan

Mixed Messages

Nothing is clear. Simple thoughts come out in convoluted stutters. Even a toddler can speak about the weather better than I can, in French. Often, before entering a store I have to go over what the best way to ask for what I need is (can I shorten est-ce-que, I ask myself. Just cut to the chase? Maybe jump right into vous avez?). Whenever I spend time in any other Canadian province - especially Toronto, perhaps because it is so close yet so far away - I am struck by how easy it is to walk into a store without having to question my grammatical grasp of the language. I'd say almost too easy (a.k.a boring). Easiness is, of course, an illusion. It might be easier for me to speak when I go into Torontonian or Calgarian stores but that doesn't mean the danger of mixing up messages doesn't arise in every moment, at every opportunity, regardless of the language. The more "social media" provides the opportunity to communicate, the more mixed up our messages are bound to become (especially with the menace of autocorrect).

Take my own experience as a case in point. My friend and I were meeting for dinner at Aux Vivres. It was a rough week, work was frantic and things were feeling off. Once at the restaurant, I discover the entire city also seems to have a veggie bowl craving that evening; there's a line-up. In reality it is small, but imposing. (This is where I don't include a rant about how I cannot believe they closed off an entire section, making the restaurant at least half its full size. Come on Aux Vivres!). Sure enough, I get a text from my friend saying, "10 min late. Be there soon." Ten minutes, barely a drop in the well of time. Still, I'm tired and hungry and my head hurts, especially in that tight little line, so I respond without a light hearted emoji or punctuation mark with a simple, "There's a line. Not cool."

Ten minutes later (or so) she walks in with a concerned line creasing her forehead, but our eyes meet in mutual understanding and within seconds we're smiling, proceeding onto our ritualistic Aux Vivres din-din. Only later do I realize the forehead crease indicated the possibility of a real problem. Only later does she realize there wasn't one. After a few days pass, she says, "I just re-read your text and only now I understand you weren't telling me I had crossed a line for being late!"

So, there are mixed messages as an anglo in a francophone province, but there are also mixed messages in english communications between close friends. To understand a message (i.e., anything you say, etc., ) depends not only on the the person sending it, but on the person receiving it as well.

There are also mixed messages in a larger sense, like messages that countries send out. Canada prides itself on tolerance and respect for all cultures, especially First Nations considering our Nation-to-Nation relationship. Yet, this is a country that, just two days ago, allowed for an all white jury to determine that a white man who shot a young indigenous man at point blank range in the back of the head is innocent of second degree murder.

Maybe this message is not in fact mixed. Maybe it is. The defence held that it was a freak accident. The fact remains that it was an all white jury, in Saskatchewan. In a place where, Mcleans writes, "Indigenous people in Saskatchewan are, for example, 33 times more likely to be incarcerated than a non-Indigenous person—higher odds than an African American in the U.S., or a black South African at the height of apartheid."

Is it lack of understanding? Has our common-sense, which we never really had as a Nation, gone out the window? Is it failure of sensitivity? Of mutual respect?

Some people say it's "the system" that's the problem, yet even our highest ranking politician, Prime-Minister Trudeau, is making statements about changing the system, making the system seem somewhat less at fault. Or at least less immune. When the system is making the mistakes, and the system is critiquing those mistakes, that's some mixed messaging occurring. Interestingly, the opposition party (PC's) are calling out the PM for his statements. They say it's about judicial independence but it's not, it's about jury selection. So, while they are in a sense asking for clear messaging, their messaging is clearly shit.

Perhaps mixed messaging, as bad as it is, includes nuance, something difficult to ascribe in a world of 240 characters or less. Ascribing nuance might be difficult, but at least the mixed messaging is easy for me to do, when speaking in a store, in Montreal.

Photo: The iconic Listen Bird taken somewhere in the Mile End.

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