Embracing the Unfamiliar in a Post-2016 World

Embracing the Unfamiliar in a Post-2016 World

December 9, 2016

In searching for an appropriate form of words to frame this, my last message for 2016, it is hard to escape the global events of the year. While much has happened in our school that is encouraging, even inspiring, the world around us appears to have changed in unexpected ways.

When I wrote about braving the Year of the Fire Monkey in February, I did comment on the high likelihood of risk, uncertainty, and change. Across the world, communities have expressed frustration, even anger, with the status quo. Some have taken to the ballot box to express this frustration; others have chosen more unusual ways of conveying public displeasure to the ‘powers that be’. We have seen people in communities around the world become less trusting, less optimistic, highlighting a high degree of anxiety, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction.

By a remarkable coincidence, two globally influential linguistic organizations have chosen to ‘honor’ two words in the English language that perhaps sum up 2016 in a succinct and sobering way: xenophobia and post-truth.

Following an extraordinary surge in online searches beginning in April and peaking on 24th June 2016 – the day after the Brexit poll – Dictionary.com named xenophobia as its word of the Year for 2016 (source: http://blog.dictionary.com/xenophobia/). The word comes to English from two Greek words: xenos meaning ‘stranger’ or ‘guest’, and phobos meaning ‘fear’ or ‘panic’; essentially it denotes a fear of foreigners. We have clearly been preoccupied with worries about ‘others’ this year.

From the renowned global authority on the English language, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that its ‘Word of the Year’ was post-truth, which Oxford defines in the following terms:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief (source: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth).

In a post-truth world, we can willfully make believe, without concern for reality.

In summary, we seem to have become distrustful of others, choosing to listen to the fears or fantasies in our hearts, rather than the facts in our heads.

For all of us, these two awards should be troubling to say the least. When communities dismiss expertise, decry knowledge, and shun wisdom, they are entering the territory of the willfully ignorant, a dark and dangerous place.

Of course, these things could never happen here, could they? We must not forget that these alarming events reflect choices; they are not unavoidable consequences.

At the ISF, we are a learning community that celebrates the pursuit of truth over ignorance and values enlightened understanding over blind prejudice. The learning journey that each of us undertakes commences in a world of strangeness, ignorance, and uncertainty. As we journey, experience, and learn, we name that which is unfamiliar, and construct understanding in the form of personal truths from thoughtful experience. Learning is the most effective inoculation against xenophobia and its post-truth symbiont. And the search for truth and understanding in the face of the unknown is often a richly rewarding and wondrous journey in its own right.

I would like to close wishing each member of The ISF Community ‘family’ a joyous and peaceful holiday season, rich with rest and reflection in equal measure. The new year, 2017, awaits with its own uncertainties. I believe we are well prepared for the challenges ahead!

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School

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