Is it true that Canadians are swagger laggards, and should we care?
Justin Trudeau thinks Canadians need to be better at selling our virtues on the world stage. He’s right about that, but he picked the wrong word to explain it
From the Halifax Chronicle Herald:
Do Canada and Canadians really need to show “a little more swagger” when it comes to promoting their achievements to the world?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinks so. Or least he said so — maybe with a bit of theatrical hyperbole and without the benefit of a dictionary — at a recent conference sponsored by e-commerce heavyweight Shopify in Toronto.
Trudeau was essentially doing a light rah-rah number — more cheerleader than swaggerer — for our IT developers and entrepreneurs, lamenting that their innovations too often get bought up at an early stage by foreign giants, rather than attracting local capital to grow on their own in Canada. True enough.
His quickie, not-so-awesome fix was that “We need to have just a little more swagger as a country, a little more of an ability to promote and demonstrate how awesome we are. We don’t often do that. We don’t do that enough.”
Of course, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole was quick to jump on this novel interpretation of swaggering as great marketing and a good indicator of general awesomeness, instead of, well, an arrogant and preening sort of strutting.
Parliament, as we know, exists for just such purposes.
And Trudeau, of course, had to up the ante, responding with what some have called an “impassioned speech” in defence of swagger as “Canadians being strong and proud on the world stage” and something baffling to the Tories.
“No, we will not apologize for swaggering when it comes to talking about Canada and being confident in the future we are building together,” Trudeau intoned, with all the melodrama of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
If anything, it was comic — a soap bubble of a nationalist speech that just wouldn’t support the puff of mock seriousness invested in it.
But getting back to swagger, is this really what the world needs from Canada? And is it the best, or a remotely credible, way for Canadians to promote their abilities and accomplishments and to sell their goods and services abroad?
Well, it’s no on both counts. There is no lack of swagger on the world stage these days and, frankly, it is not associated by most people with ability or accomplishment.
Indeed, in business or in government, swagger is something most of us identify with people who do not know what they are doing, not people who do.
It is a compensation mechanism for incompetence. It is strongly correlated with BS. It isn’t likely to win you eager partners or customers.
And at the personal level, it is frequently the mark of being a jerk. Swagger is not a joy for others to be around. It gets in the way of real communication, understanding and respect.
So let’s be competent and accomplished and be confident in that. And firm about doing things right, without the hype. Those qualities may not make you famous. But they make you necessary, even essential.
And in statecraft and business, that’s better than a swaggering ego, strutting noisily toward disaster.
But getting back to swagger, is this really what the world needs from Canada? And is it the best, or a remotely credible, way for Canadians to promote their abilities and accomplishments
and to sell their goods and services abroad