Crisis: opportunity + danger?

While I pursue my PhD at the University of Dallas, I still have bills to pay (surprise!), and so I also work on the leadership team at a fast food restaurant. As part of the leadership development programs we participate in, I come across lots of pretty cliche business-speak encouragements. I can’t recall ever hearing from this particular company that “In Chinese, the word for crisis is a combination of the signs for danger and opportunity“, but I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for the kinds of things that business training people say and it definitely sounds like something I could have heard.

Of course, I also have an interest in languages, and so I was intrigued when a friend shared a post debunking this particular etymological claim. Here’s the money paragraph:

The third, and fatal, misapprehension is the author’s definition of as “opportunity.” While it is true that wēijī does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of “danger,” the syllable ofwēijī most definitely does not signify “opportunity.” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines “opportunity” as:

  1. a favorable juncture of circumstances;
  2. a good chance for advancement or progress.

While that may be what our Pollyanaish advocates of “crisis” as “danger” plus “opportunity” desire to signify, it means something altogether different.

The of wēijī, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wēijī indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits. In a crisis, one wants above all to save one’s skin and neck! Any would-be guru who advocates opportunism in the face of crisis should be run out of town on a rail, for his / her advice will only compound the danger of the crisis.

And if you didn’t know, now you know.

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