Heartstring 21 has evolved into a flaw of national proportions.

It’s our most popular weakness, the one that our flock of cartoonists exploits the most. It’s also the one we openly criticize in any type of conversation, from trivial banter to official speeches.

“The climate of generalized fear we live in has an impact on everything we do,” writes Frère Untel. “We’re afraid of authority. Most of the choices we make are about not saying or not thinking anything and keeping the status quo. We should build a church of Our-Lady-of-Fear and organize pilgrimages for the entire Quebec population.”

But how does our herd mentality stem from the Catholic Root? Before 1960, Quebecers celebrated their faith as flocks by community. There will never be a shortage of shepherds who, like Joan of Arc and former Ugandan President Idi Amin Dada, hear voices and get their orders on how to save their race from on high. Former Spanish dictator Franco, former Portuguese president Salazar, Mussolini and Duplessis were all shepherds of Catholic flocks. Head honchos are always very important people. As Henri Bourassa used to say, “Where the ram goes, the sheep follow.”

Quebecers are less individualistic than the French when it comes to politics. The party coaches them and imposes its rules. There’s no room for turncoats in this kind of traditional British political environment. Edmond de Nevers said the Canadian Parliament was like a meeting of very stylish businessmen.

We start off leaning to the right, then we quickly switch to the left. We move forward, then we decide to go backwards. But regardless of the direction we choose, we’re always following a good shepherd with a voice you can hear even in a storm.

Thinking we may have slaughtered our lambs and turned them into stew, journalist and author Senator Solange Chaput-Rolland criticizes all the shepherds who’ve led the French Canadian flock. She writes, “In 1848, Bishop Bourget wrote to Lord Elgin that his Excellency could count on the population’s loyalty as long as he fulfilled his duties to God.”

During the Second World War, politician Adrien Arcand and his followers were convinced the Allies would be defeated so they handed out pictures of Mussolini to anyone who would take them, begging Quebecers to join the fascist movement. When a storm hits, we always listen to the loudest person around.

Léon Guérin discusses why he thinks we follow the pack. “Because habitants couldn’t find the kind of energy to organize and drive their community and public life within their family units and rural neighbourhoods, they ended up finding it in religion and politics, two very unyielding entities.”

Socio-political observers think this Heartstring has been loosening since the Quiet Revolution, and no one seems to mind. Sociology and anthropology professor Maurice Pinard has this to say about how fleeting the public opinion of Quebecers has become:

“In less than six months a large number of voters have managed to support the Parti Québécois at the provincial level, Trudeau’s Liberals during bi-elections at the federal level, and candidates from religious organizations at the scholastic level.”

These unexpected victories definitely went against the predictions of more than a few political pundits.

While Heartstring 21 has had some influence on the political destiny of the Quebec population, much to its displeasure, it hasn’t played any real role in stimulating consumerism (which is somewhat ironic). More political than commercial, Heartstring 21 often tones down Heartstring 13 instead of amplifying its effects. Throw Heartstring 33 into the mix and things get even more confusing.

Our Herd Mentality is a collective action Heartstring whereas Heartstring 33 is an expression of our need to be recognized as individuals. These may be opposing concepts, but they can easily co-exist. We’re happy to be part of the family, but we don’t want to be exactly like our brothers and sisters.

Our taste in fashion, cosmetics and anything else having to do with our bodies is influenced by Heartstring 33 first, while choices in gadgets like CBs and skateboards, travel destinations, curse words and the latest trend that has everyone ending their sentences with “like, you know” are the product of Heartstring 21.

Travel destinations, you ask? Here’s what I mean.

Yves Taschereau wrote a very interesting article entitled “Florida is for Quebecers” in the December 1976 issue of L’Actualité magazine.

“Every winter, more than 1 million Quebecers wave goodbye to the snow, flu season and cars that skid off the road or won’t even start. The ones Americans refer to as snowbirds or aspirins (because of their pasty white skin) show up in droves to lie on Florida’s sunny beaches. They stay for a week or two, a month, and sometimes the whole winter. Lately, more and more of them are deciding to relocate there permanently. They’ve taken over Miami Beach from 70th to 90th Street. You can see Canadian and Quebec flags everywhere down there. And you can easily get your hands on La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Quebec decided to join the US. Having access to performer Michel Louvain, Allô-Police (a Quebec tabloid) and hockey on TV, with Miami’s palm trees and blue water in the background, makes for an exotic but very safe destination that resembles one of our larger communities back home.”

It’s easy to believe Quebec tourists instinctively end up staying in the same hotels in New York City, Paris and Acapulco. The natives of Merida, Mexico will tell you that Cozumel Island was named after the Canadian migratory birds, the ones that leave and come back. Like tourists, if you will. Even our ducks have a little sheep in them.

Behaviour exhibited on camping trips is also tied to Heartstring 21. Just think of all the tents and trailers that park in a lot the size of a dime. We all love nature (Heartstring 2), this is true, but we all love a bit of gossip (Heartstring 12), too!

Air Canada travel agents know what a self-centred people we are by how we research tourist destinations. We like visiting places where we’ll be able to surround ourselves with the safe and comforting presence of our own kind, totally cancelling out the sense of adventure or change of scenery one usually looks for when going on vacation.

Directly encouraging consumers to emulate others is an American thing. Trying to sell ideas like, “Your neighbour has a Cadillac, why don’t you?” or “Everybody’s doing it, why aren’t you?” is not something that works here in Quebec, yet it’s often used in translated advertising.

Léon Guérin stated that, “It wasn’t the habitants who came up with the concept of a parish. The idea was already fully developed when they came across it and decided to conform to its guidelines. They don’t dominate their parish, it dominates them. And they’re not active, enterprising citizens either, but rather faithful and obedient parishioners.”

So what makes this a Catholic flaw? In the past, the Church was never a level above or below the people of Quebec. Instead, it was inside each and every one of them, ready to intervene at the slightest indiscretion and excommunicate the black sheep. It wasn’t that long ago that we had everything blessed, like water, bridges and public buildings. As a publicist I organized the blessing of the first Steinberg supermarket in Chicoutimi around 1955. There’s a lot to be said for ecumenism…

This is what Joe has to say about his grandfather Simard:

“He didn’t give a crap. He didn’t care about anyone. Nobody liked him, including the mayor and the priest. I never understood why the entire village went to his funeral and followed the hearse like a flock of sheep. Maybe it’s because my grandfather was in all the funeral processions, too.”

In the end, those self-sufficient habitants ended up tooting their own horns and fencing off their land. What started out as a good individual quality became a collective shortcoming that turned their independence into apathy.

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.