As a lifetime glottophile, I have long been fascinated by the various families of languages that modern cultures use, and of course some of their historical roots and changes over the centuries and millennia.
In 2014, a new research paper suggested a common linguistic ancestor between the first two families above.
I do love finding more ways to show how connected we are on this Earth, and common languages, however far back they may reach, can help light the way to a greater understanding of each other in the present.
We really do have more in common with our neighbors at home and abroad than many of us realize. And if seeing that helps anyone empathize a little better today, it seems worth sharing, too.
This is piece #2 of 21 in 21, a collaborative publishing project by husband-and-wife team Matthew D. Futter and Meredith Silverman, as we write about a series of 21 things we look forward to being different in 2021. (Read parts #1 here and also here if you missed them.) Throughout the year, we will publish pieces on the same subject, but from our own unique perspectives. You can find us both at the links above.
It’s hard to think of what else to say about our new President and Vice President that people haven’t already said for the last several weeks.
Since the election, which was called on November 7th (never mind that it was contested until January 6th), a lot of people have been writing their thoughts on the President, and I am far from the first to bring mine. There’s no need to rehash how his COVID-19 actions and plans date back to January of 2020. Or that a moderate President can be a truly transformative one. Or why I am much more confident about his experience than I am concerned about his age. Or that even if President Biden had to leave office after one term, due to health concerns – and he is transparent about his health and shows no significant signs of any decline – he chose a Vice President to accompany him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who is also experienced and impressive in her own right.
As the United States of America is (almost by definition) a patchwork of incredible diversity, so too has President Biden begun to build his own Cabinet and other leadership teams from a cross-section that represents more of this country than has any President who has gone before him.
Many Presidents, and certainly our previous one, built their inner circles and installed department heads, almost entirely of white men. This is a new day. Joe Biden knows that we need something better. He stepped into office and immediately spoke of uniting the country. Sure, easier said than done. But he still stated his goal, and he’s working to build this team with transparency and diversity, and that is a plan that we can all get behind, and a team of which we can all be proud to be a part.
I am relieved and excited to have a President in office who speaks of the good of the country, not at the expense of the world, but as part of our global community. I am delighted that, in his first hours in office, he began to rescind some of the more alienating policies that his predecessor had implemented. America does not stand alone. We shouldn’t need to, and we shouldn’t want to.
The Americas, in fact, make up less than 30% of the planet’s landmass, and they only host around 13% of the world’s population on those two continents. For the United States of America, an even smaller piece of only one continent, to claim to stand above or apart from the rest of our planet, is arrogance of the highest order and unrealistic in the extreme.
The office of the POTUS has long been known as the most powerful leadership position in the world. So it brings me joy, hope, and no small degree of comfort, when the latest holder of that office sees leadership as a responsibility to those who follow, and not a mantle of might to wear at the expense of those around him.
Our President was never meant to be a dictator. He is, as Dave Kovic put it so well, only a temporary employee of the people. As the Chief Executive Officer of a company may have to answer to a Board of Directors, so does the President have to answer to the citizens. And if you install the right kind of person in that office for four (or eight) years, then you can have every reason to expect that they will serve the needs of the many and not just the one.
Joe Biden’s record of public service is long and transparent. I’m not saying the man is a saint — and as a good Catholic, he would never assume that title, either! He knows he is fallible, and so we can accept him as a man who is still learning at the age of 78 and will continue to learn throughout the remainder of his career in public service. That’s a sign of an excellent leader. Knowing what you don’t know is a sign of wisdom, too. Socrates famously said this centuries ago, and it remains true today.
Vice President Harris has not been in public service for as long as President Biden has, but that means she has even more years to learn and grow and help people. Help guide us to a better place. Help us build a better country than we have now. The work has already begun! And if we all keep an eye on this North Star together, we are far more likely to stay on course.
A better world is well worth the work it takes to make it real. I’m honored to pick up all the tools I have and follow these two through the trenches to help build it.
Learning new languages can deepen your understanding of different cultures. Such bridges lead people to peace, sharing, and growth for all. Find a group, an app, or a course that interests you; start learning about other cultures through their language; then find a community where you can practice your skills and get to know a different people in their own words. Start anywhere you like, but start today!
I have long considered this date to be irrelevant in the grand scheme of life, but that doesn’t keep me from recognizing it.
Like so many people who believe themselves to be intelligent and discerning, I am keenly aware that just because I may feel a certain way, that does not put me into the majority by any means. If most people in this country believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, then it bears paying attention. In the same way, if most people think that there is something in the road along which I am driving, whether I think so or not, I would be wise to pay attention to their behavior in case they swerve around the spot, obstacle or no!
It is interesting that there is no consensus of any particular origin of the superstition, though several theories have sprung up over the past couple of centuries. Christians say that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and history suggests that the Romans conducted all executions on Friday; they also add that Judas was the 13th guest at the Last Supper. The Norse god Loki was said to be the 13th (unwanted) guest at a meal in Valhalla attended by 12 other gods; Loki, god of mischief, tricked one of Odin’s sons into destroying his brother during the visit, and the mourning over such a great loss fueled the superstition for ages to come.
Curiously as well, people in the United States view Friday the 13th as unlucky, but Italians see Friday the 17th in the same light, while Greek people and Spanish-speaking cultures hold Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day in general. Some literature backs up many of these modern ideas, but the histories have a pretty wide range of origins, too. The Dutch have even noted that fires, theft, and traffic accidents in the Netherlands tend to be lower on Friday the 13th, since people tend to be more careful on this day; some even stay home as a precaution. And Finland promotes the National Accident Day to raise awareness of automotive safety. The scheduled date for this each year? Always on a Friday the 13th (which does occur at least once and often more in every calendar year).
Looking around at traditions and group psychology, it is easy to see why millions of people believe that there is an unlucky day like this, whether the proof is there or not. But my favorite perspective is one that a colleague told me just this morning: how can it be unlucky when you’re about to enjoy a weekend off of work? So have a nice weekend, everyone, whatever your plans. And if you have to work on Saturday, remember that everyone else will be grateful to have made it past Friday the 13th, and share a few smiles with them over that.