Home > News and politics > The Contrariness of Stéphane Geandron

The Contrariness of Stéphane Geandron

21-Oct-06 08:27 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Mitsou Gelinas,
host of CBC’s Au Courant

The CBC prgoramme Au Courant was on this weekend and caught my ear.  (The program, hosted by Mitsou Gelinas, interviews a variety of different Québec celebreties on the English language CBC Newsworld network.)  I listented to the guest Stéphane Gendron intently because he was talking about an issue that’s touched me this year: suffering.

I disagree with Gendron (he’s rather an opinionated sort; uncommon for a politician like him) – and passionately – but not just because I’m as opinionated and passionate about my views as he.  Suffering is something, I’ve always thought, to be avoided; yet he brought forth the provocative notion it was not only necessary – that suffering is really the whole point in life.

To him, suffering builds character.  Dying after a long disease is his aspiration because it’s suffering that brings out the best in us, so that we, in effect, are the best we’ll ever be as people right before we die, in terms of experience, character and all the we’ll ever become or make of ourselves.

I have to wonder if he’s ever read any of the writings of a Germanic philosopher named von Clausewitz.  His views mirror that of Gendron, except von Clausewitz argued that it wasn’t dying – it was war that brought out the best in us.  And, I suspect Gendron’s arguments fall victim to many of the same pitfalls as those of the late Prussian General.

But it isn’t any of the philosophy that primarily undermines Gendron’s point on this subject.  It’s what I saw when I was sick this past year in hospital.  At one point when I was being wheeled about the hospital, being taken for tests to diagnose the festering bacteria on my heart valve and to learn what damage had been done (and whether or not it was gonna kill me), I remember running into a middle-aged woman who was obviously undergoing cancer treatment.  I’d ben wheeled into the readiology department for a CT head scan (I think this was in late June), and waited my turn to come.  As I waited, she smiled at me from beneath her head scarf and chatted with me about the negatives of the hospital experience; the uncertainty, the often uncaring bureaucracy, the overworked medical staff, etc.  As she got wheeled away back to her room she waved back at me and made the "V" sign – presumably a sign of hope.  She was clearly putting on a brave face, and apparently in the early part of her treatment.  But I could tell she was very, very worried.

I never saw her again after that.

Death is frightening because we as a species have been genetically programmed that way (by nature) as a survival instrument.  Yet that same fear causes suffering – the moment we’re faced with the bare fact of our own mortality when our life is jeapordized, we tend to weaken psychologically.  Life ceases to have the same meaning to us as we enter a state where the downward spiral of our health into the grave fills us with dread and, while still alive, vulnerability around those we love.

I realize death is necessary, as is siffering.  But to me, it’s not some prize to look forward to – it’s very much to be avoided because our existance is less fulfilling and less meaningful when we suffer.  This, to me, is common sense – pain reduced quality of life and thus is always an evil to be avoided; experienced only as necessary to the higher goal – of living happy.

Stéphane Geandron

And for all Gendron’s reverence for suffering, it doesn’t appear he’s living his ideals.  Perhaps not so strange for a politician – but strange I think for Gendron.  He came across as very honest and sincere in the interview and perhaps has a shot at making his ultimate political aspiration one day: becoming Prime Minister of Canada.  But were he true to his ideals, he wouldn’t care about neglecting his family – a point mentioned in the interview.  Indeed, he’d avoid his son and upset him beofre sending him off to school more often with more dreaded chats about mortality (not really a good subject for 8-year-olds he agreed).  Because that would build character, right?

It’s pure nonsense of course.  As is this idea of suffering being noble, or anything else positive but necessary.

What’s not nonsense is this atheist’s idea on Québec’s place in Canada, and the need to sign the constitution.  Unfortuantely, this is likely the primary reason he’ll never bcome PM: the idea of Québec just signing the constitution and then putting out a press release.  Such idealism has all the air-worthiness of a lead baloon in Québec politics.  But it’s refreshing to see someone trying.  Even if the death of his son, which probably sparked the dark philopsophical bias manifested as his idealiogy of noble suffering – there is the undenyable positive that someone in Québec’s politics is being hoest and practical with the people about seperatism.  Telling it just like it really is.

Maybe I’ll watch Au Courant again.

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Terry Glavin

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