What do “identity,” “sharing economy” and “face with tears of joy emoji” have in common?
Not a lot at first blush! But they’ve each been selected as the 2015 “Word of the Year” – by Dictionary.com, the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and the Oxford Dictionary respectively. The decisions were based on the prominence and frequency of usage of the terms throughout the year.
Did you affect their choice?
You certainly did if you were part of the intense debate about cultural and racial identity weaving its way in and out of the news all last year, or if you participated in the equally impassioned discussions about our understanding of gender and sexuality. As human thought wrestles with these issues, standpoints taken for granted down the centuries are being re-evaluated.
Apart from the social and political questions being raised, the desire for a clearer view of identity has also been the subject of research.
For instance, one study found our brains can’t really fit into categories of “male” or “female” but consist of a range of qualities displayed uniquely by each of us, irrespective of gender.
To me, this hints at what a health reformer and spiritual thinker named Mary Baker Eddy discovered about our underlying spiritual nature – which she demonstrated in the healing of physical and mental illness on the basis of what she discerned.
“Gender means simply kind or sort,” is “not confined to sexuality” and is “mental, not material,” she explains in the bestseller, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
When her husband passed away, Annu realised she needed to put into practice what she’d read in this book, and understand more deeply how we’re each a union of feminine and masculine qualities – of gentleness, love and beauty as well as strength, understanding and wisdom, and so on. Rather than identifying herself as a woman needing a man to be whole, Annu found this understanding about individual completeness made her free from many restrictions in her new circumstances.
You also affected the Word of the Year if you took an interest in the evolving idea of a “sharing economy”. This is defined as an economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals either for free or for a fee, typically by means of the Internet. (Oxford Dictionary)
It’s clear that we’re relishing being part of this new kind of economy. The popularity of Ebay has shown how honesty and openness can build a strong digital community of trust. Uber and Airbnb have followed suit – taking the concept of “a community of trust” into the fields of cab rides and holiday accommodation. And nearly two-thirds of such businesses say peer regulation works better than government regulation.
This, too, boils down to a question of identity. On the one hand, the key to building that trust is very practical, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, namely to authenticate the identity of both users and providers. On the other hand, the user – whether the client or the provider – needs to nurture the honesty, integrity and dependability that make his or her identity trustworthy.
“FACE WITH TEARS OF JOY” EMOJI
Maybe some of you have been instrumental in the choice of this unusual “Word of the Year” without even realising that the joyful Internet emoji you used – with tears streaming down its cheeks – was called by this name. If so, then you’ve probably joined me in shedding happy tears on hearing reports such as the rescue of a teenager from under a collapsed building days after an earthquake in India or maybe news closer to home, from family or friends.
This year, there’s also been a plethora of negative news items. But perhaps the significantly increased usage and selection of “face with tears of joy” emoji suggests another story was being told away from the nightly news.
On social media, this emoji might occasionally be added to news of the latest gossip, a new outfit, or extra money in the bank. More often, though, I’ve seen it associated with more substantial things like the latest good-news post from a friend on Facebook … a hard-fought achievement celebrated … or an unfair law overturned.
And it can go even deeper than that, of course. What brings me the most joy is gaining what I would call a different, “divinely scientific”, perspective on life from spiritual insights about the nature of an all-loving God and man’s innate goodness as His likeness. These insights about true identity, I have found, can heal me.
May our 2016 be filled with just such reasons to shed tears of joy and with an ever-deepening sense of the precious divine identity of ourselves and all our neighbours, whatever their race, culture, sex or sexuality.