In times of crisis, some Westerners are fond of saying that “crisis,” when written in Chinese, consists of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” This is an interesting, even optimistic notion, that also happens to be wrong. It’s the kind of aphoristic observation that culty CEOs like making when they go “full guru” in front of their minions. Danger and opportunity aren’t just “two great tastes together at last” for these guys, it’s a panacea for nervous shareholders at best and justification for profiteering at worst.
Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania writes that the “crisis” misnomer is the province of “pop psychology” and “hocus-pocus.” So why does it endure? Because it contains a kernel of truth. A crisis can present an opportunity—an opportunity to say the right thing, the right way, at the right time. But don’t worry, that’s not going to happen right here, right now. I’m still trying to wake up from history.
As they say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, sing it unintelligibly over some power chords. Barring that, my generation—X—has a professed preference for bluntness over rapier wit, so if I say anything, whatever it is, it will just sound rude. And dull. I mean, why glide one’s intellect over the fine-grain sharpening stone when you can bang your head against a wall instead?
Speaking of self-soothing, you have to remember that none of us expected to outlive the Reagan era. The world was supposed to end in a nuclear holocaust and the pandemic du jour was AIDS, which arrived in time to stymie a generation’s sexual awakening (didn’t work). And when we weren’t waiting for death to arrive, we waited for our parents, hunkered down in front of afterschool specials that taught the horrors of moralizing between commercial breaks, as we turned a latch key in our Cheeto-stained fingers.
“As the generation raised in the age of stranger danger and Just Say No, our inherent risk aversion is finally being recognized as a great strength and asset to the survival of the species,” wrote Megan Gerhardt for an NBC News think-piece.
Crisis is my brand. In fact, I understand that the word “Crisis” is actually the combination of the expressions “cry for help” and “isolation tank.” Crysis—why is this not a band already? Let us be, so that we may scream silently in our hearts.