Two nights ago I found myself sitting in a cramped room surrounded by new Canadians, a few uncomfortable white people that were likely bullied as children and myself. What are new Canadians you ask? Anyone who has a work visa, permanent residency or citizenship but were born in other countries. Aside from the original native inhabitants, this is everyone’s backstory in Canada, give or take 1 to 5 degrees of generational separation and even then you could argue the original native inhabitants took a land route to get here instead of air or water like everyone else. I’m pretty sure the moose, bear and beaver think this land mass belongs to them too. Migration: the ultimate usurper of neighbourhood demographics.
This congregation of the marginalized were gathered to listen to two guest speakers illuminate them on how to tweak one’s personality to become more employable. I was there on a whim, having been pimped to volunteer for an organization that would bolster my network and volunteering creds on LinkedIn. Except, not knowing what kind of organization I was being pimped to, I opted instead to go to one of their monthly events.
Which is how I found myself seated in a cramped room, holding Tim Hortons coffee and munching on the $10 ‘refreshments’ piece of pizza that was on offer before the speakers began. They even charged the volunteers $10 for refreshments, which seemed to take away any perks that I could perceive in the whole endeavour.
The first speaker got up, a white, tall and balding middle aged man who promoted his books on Canadian workplace etiquette and behaviours for new Canadians. His revelation, heavily recycled from the playbook of Dale Carnegie and rebranded as ’emotional intelligence’, was that one should display empathy by learning to listen more and talk less. Unfortunately, he decided to acronym ’emotional intelligence’ to E.I. throughout his presentation. I’m not sure how much emotional intelligence was involved in unconscious linking with employment insurance but it may explain why he got a wine bottle stopper as a speaker’s fee.
The second speaker, a white, middle aged woman, stressed the importance of overcoming major personality pitfalls using personality tests and practiced self awareness. As her hands trembled holding her notes, discomfort evident in every jerky gesture, she kept repeating, “Look at me, you would never know I’m an introvert because I’ve taught myself to behave as an extrovert. You gotta fake it till you make it.” This mantra, repeated many, many times, seemed to help remind her she wasn’t painfully introverted and that yes, she could make a living giving inspirational talks. She also received a wine bottle stopper.
I cringe to think what social mores these events impress upon new Canadians or any of the struggling unemployed. What if you are an impressionable new graduate or you sit somewhere on the Asperger spectrum? What if you simply hate people? Can crib notes on NHL hockey teams, The Walking Dead and the 2016 Oscar nominees help you make friends around the water cooler? Are your water cooler friends going to make you a more happier and fulfilled person or will you come to dread the Academy Awards and the 4 hour telecast you have to sit through just so you can partake in the post Oscar chatter?
I go for lunch on occasion with three ex-colleagues. One is a Syrian, one is Pakistani and the third is Chinese – all new Canadians. I am fourth generation Polish-Ukrainian with a dollop of German and Irish thrown in for good measure. We sit around laughing, immersing ourselves in the amusing quirkiness of our camaraderie. We are, I believe, the quintessential Canadians: accepting, humorous, and embracing of the new and interesting. You don’t need to fake being Canadian. You are Canadian by virtue of your arrival. By stepping foot on this northern land, leaving the historical burdens, economic hardships and oppressive regimes of your birth country, you demonstrate kinship to all the wearied travellers that found their way home to Canada. It is the diversity and individuality of people in our workplace that should be promoted, not some jingoistic version of The Office.