Oops

ChineseSymbol.jpg

A few posts ago, I used the Chinese word for crisis as meaning the combination of danger and opportunity. Gena Rotstein pointed out that this interpretation is not quite right. She linked me to an article by a Chinese language expert, Victor Mair, that explains:

There is a widespread public misperception, particularly among the New Age sector, that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of elements that signify “danger” and “opportunity.” … the damage from this kind of pseudo-profundity has reached such gross proportions that I feel obliged, as a responsible Sinologist, to take counteraction… .

Like most Mandarin words, that for “crisis” (wÄ“ijÄ«) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wÄ“i and jÄ«… While it is true that wÄ“ijÄ« does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wÄ“i syllable of wÄ“ijÄ« does convey the notion of “danger,” the jÄ« syllable of wÄ“ijÄ« most definitely does not signify “opportunity.”

For those who have staked their hopes and careers on the CRISIS = DANGER + OPPORTUNITY formula and are loath to abandon their fervent belief in jÄ« as signifying “opportunity,” it is essential to list some of the primary meanings of the graph in question. Aside from the notion of “incipient moment” or “crucial point” discussed above, the graph for jÄ« by itself indicates “quick-witted(ness); resourceful(ness)” and “machine; device.” In combination with other graphs, however, jÄ« can acquire hundreds of secondary meanings. It is absolutely crucial to observe that jÄ« possesses these secondary meanings only in the multisyllabic terms into which it enters. To be specific in the matter under investigation, jÄ« added to huì (“occasion”) creates the Mandarin word for “opportunity” (jÄ«huì), but by itself jÄ« does not mean “opportunity.”

A wēijī in Chinese is every bit as fearsome as a crisis in English. A jīhuì in Chinese is just as welcome as an opportunity to most folks in America. To confuse a wēijī with a jīhuì is as foolish as to insist that a crisis is the best time to go looking for benefits.

So let me take this “jÄ«huì” and express my apologies to Professor Mair and to all Chinese speakers for propagating a misuse of their language. In any case, I do believe that we are at a “crucial point” where we have to confront the failures of the ways we operate and think about the world. Those ways are not working effectively any more. Einstein’s warning about continuing to think in the same old ways is clearer right now than it has been during the many recent years where we have simply assumed everything was just fine because the indicators of well-being were always going up. There were two errors involved. One, the indicators did not really signal well-being, and, two, they did not and cannot go up forever. Whether one speaks English or Chinese, the time is ripe for reflection and change.

|