[eng] Break a leg, kids!

Article published on July 15, 2013
Article published on July 15, 2013

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The year is 2013. Along the corridors of a company in France, two colleagues cry to one another, “Ok, break a leg!” Did you notice? “Break a leg” is the new “Have a good day”. It’s spreading everywhere. And yet, there where the traditional “Have a good day” sounds like a kind blessing, saying “break a leg” to one another reveals the opposite of an awkward feeling amongst work colleagues.

Until now, the French expression “bon courage” has been the equivalent of “break a leg!” in English, of “Dayan” (Keep well) in Turkish or of “Halt die Ohren steif!” (Keep your ears stiff!) in German. These are symbolic words wished to those who wish to overcome an awkward moment. The French “bon courage” refers to the heart; the word that “courage” is derived from is “cœur”, the French word for heart. In Spain, it’s the spirit that we dedicate ourselves to for encouragement, the Spanish expression being “Animo y al toro!”  (Courage, and attack the bull!). Animo comes from the Latin word animus, which refers to the soul or the spirit. Courage is a value, a force, a weapon against fear. I always associate it with a daring knight in the face of danger. When wishing each other “break a leg!” between two truly mundane coffee breaks, what are we unveiling? If we are in need of courage, then we are in fear or apprehension of something. That we are at the end of our tether. That we are fed up with our working lives, that it’s an ordeal and makes us suffer, that it’s about gritting your teeth and carrying on. Is that really what we want to share with our colleagues?     

The first time that someone said “bon courage” (or break a leg) to me for no reason, I thought that it sounded quite nice, showing that we were all in the same boat. However, that soon stopped amusing me. I don’t want people to wish me courage for working. Thanks, but I’m not going down the mines. The social climate is already tedious enough without us adding to it. Courage has lost its meaning, being bandied about and applied to daily monotony. Courage, Fuyons (Run Away) is the name of a French film about a family cursed with cowardice, and it has also become a way of speaking. Because it is in situations where running away means reacting and being more scared rather than staying put when faced with an ordeal. Break a leg; it evokes a world of uncomplaining employees who have given up on changing their day to day lives, who are encouraging one another not to do anything extraordinary, but to just hang on in there.

Those three little words which are usually so inspiring penetrate the way of speaking through the seeping holes in this critical context of social aspects and prevailing defeatism. Workers, look after yourselves. And to the protesters in Taksim, dayan!

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