By Catherine Bérubé | August 27, 2021
To prevent people going through personal issues from falling into extremism or hatred, the Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRVM) relies on mentoring. “A presence for all” is the mentoring program deployed in Quebec in April 2021, which offers companionship to those who wish to use it. By pairing volunteer mentors and mentees, the CPRLV hopes that meaningful relationships with multiple benefits can be established. We spoke with two participants about their experiences since the implementation of the program.
Michaël, a mentor, is convinced that the program goes beyond hatred. According to him, hatred is part of a social tension palpable around the world, especially since the pandemic. “The mentoring experience just requires putting oneself in a completely different state of mind, even counter-intuitive, compared to the automatism that one can have at the moment in society: either to be cynical, not to believe in humanity or not to believe in the good side of human beings”, notes Michaël.
The latter felt the need to get involved like a call from the heart. Always on the lookout for news on the Internet and faced with a certain sense of worthlessness during confinement, Michaël saw it as an opportunity to get involved and contribute to the well-being of society. “I have a tendency to naturally want to help everyone. In that program, I was invited to use this quality and I think this is the best way to channel this desire to give of oneself”, he confides.
For our second spokesperson, known under the pseudonym the King’s Jester (Fou du Roy), “it’s more than a program”. The mentorship allowed him to develop a relationship that he would have considered incongruous in the past: “I am developing a friendship, something sincere that I have never had in my life”. Previously a member of hate groups, the King’s Jester has decided to give himself a second chance and now enjoys a reassuring companionship: a mentor he can now count on.
“It’s more than a program: I am developing a friendship, something sincere that I have never had in my life”
King’s Jester (Fou du Roi)
The effect of the pandemic
“A Presence for All” began in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had repercussions on its progress. The mentor-mentee meetings, which were initially scheduled to take place in person, were conducted over the phone and virtually. Against all expectations, this unforeseen event was experienced in a positive way by the participants.
Specifically, the use of the telephone and video conferencing platforms enabled those involved in the program to be non-judgmental based on physical appearance. “The fact that we had telephone meetings, that we got to know each other first by voice and then by videoconference, I think that made us perhaps more open,” indicates the King’s Jester. Michaël agrees: “I think it brought the fact of not being able to bear prejudices.” In fact, the two men agree that the information and communication technologies should be maintained for the next groups of the mentoring program.
The strength of the bond
Despite their different backgrounds, a relationship of equals has been built between Michaël and his mentee: “It is enriching to see that we can talk and understand each other, even between different people. It means a lot to me. This is a connection that is really unusual in my life, and I wanted it. I knew I was able to do it”.
The similarity of their personality traits would have contributed to the success of the match. Michaël describes his mentee as a very committed, enlightened and curious person. “He’s someone I can get along with in everyday life: [he’s] really nice and I really want to keep hanging out with him,” he says.
As for the King’s Jester, he told us that he “always looks forward to speaking” with his mentor. “It’s really like I’m talking to a long-time male friend,” he says. His “male friend” in the mentoring program is said to have qualities that make their interactions particularly fluid and enjoyable, such as being an attentive ear, laughing and having a good conversation.
Relationship to masculinity
The mentoring program gives participants the opportunity to open a dialogue on social, religious, political, identity and ideological issues or questions. Masculinity is one of the topics of discussion discussed by the King’s Jester with his mentor. He always felt a certain rivalry with the men around him. Forging good relationships with people of the same sex is now possible thanks to this experience. “Guys close to me have hurt me a lot. So, for me to have someone meaningful who is a guy is a lot in my life […] I am learning to trust, I realize that it is possible to have a real sincere friend. It’s a strong relationship that is developing,” he says.
Michaël also gave us his opinion on the subject and believes that there would be “different masculinities and different ways of expressing it in society”. For him, mentoring makes it possible to share positive emotions and to break out of often reductive male stereotypes.
A favorable commitment
Contributing to positive change, this is what Michaël wishes to achieve through his volunteer involvement. He hopes to pull his mentee “towards something positive and towards his desire to get involved in society to fight radicalization”. The “A Presence for All” program not only offers individual support, but also an opportunity to “make a commitment to make society better,” the mentor concluded during our interview.
The CPRLV mentorship program is funded by Public Safety Canada. For more information on the CPRLV mentorship program, visit the Website: https://info-radical.org/en/support/mentorship/