Collusion. Corruption. Covfefe. In 2017, it was easy to get distracted — and distraught — by President Trump’s Category 5 tweetstorms and the news cycles they drove.
And thanks to the connectedness we now experience through social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we often feel every newsworthy event with both apocalyptic urgency and a sense of fatigue that can paralyze us into hopelessness and inaction.
That’s why my nomination for the word that best characterizes 2017 is 危机, or wēijī, the Chinese word for “crisis.”
In 1959, John F. Kennedy, then still a senator, explained in a speech that “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters — one represents danger and one represents opportunity.”
In an essay originally published in 2005, Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that this translation of wēijī is incorrect.
According to Mair, wēijī is most accurately translated as “a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry,” with no aspect of “opportunity” explicitly or even implicitly conveyed.
But John F. Kennedy was neither the first person nor the last to invoke the danger/opportunity trope. It dates back to at least 1938, and in our era, Condoleezza Rice, Al Gore, and many others have used it as well.
So while the Chinese may not actually have a word for crisis that means danger plus opportunity, they should invent one!
In 2017 especially, a word that defines crisis as danger plus opportunity should exist. And not just in Chinese — in all languages. Perhaps “krisegelegenheit” auf Deutsch, or a new word in English, “opisis,” where we put the opportunity before the crisis to remind ourselves always to look for the opportunity. Or even better yet, it should be an emoji, a globally comprehensible sign of the mobile times.
In my view, this is the most useful and potentially productive way of interpreting this era, when so much is in flux.
Even before Donald Trump led us into our new weekly vortex of demagoguery, narcissism, and golf, America was in the midst of great change. Amid the forces of globalization and technological innovation, wages are stagnating. Established industries are disappearing even as new ones…