What is the meaning of life? Would the planet survive for another century? No, it's not just you. The whole world is asking these questions today. And so it was only fair of Dictionary.com to choose "existential" as their word of the year for 2019.
Existential is anything and everything to do with the physical act of existing. But it also describes the metaphysical existence of the human mind and consciousness. In that sense, the word is symbolic of the times we live.
On the first level, it serves as a pertinent reminder of the deepening climate crisis that will endanger the physical existence on Earth. For the United States, which is set to vote for President less than a year later, this is a reminder. Democratic Party's Bernie Sanders in February had referred to the climate crisis as "an existential crisis that impacts not just you and me and our generation but our kids and our grandchildren."
2019 was the year that also saw increasing climate change activism, with the likes of the 15-year-old Greta Thunberg locking eyebrows with world leaders and capitalist magnates at the United Nations in an attempt to jolt the world out of its infuriating slumber and open their eyes to the melting ice caps, burning forests, and vanishing wildlife. Dictionary.com noted that throughout the year, searches for the word spiked over others as the word was repeatedly associated with the climate crisis.
On the second level, "existential" acknowledges the inner struggle and conflict with one's own sense of identity and self amid constant and endemic violence, wars, bloodshed, corruption, inequality and deception. To be or not to be?
It is a nod to the 20th-century tradition of philosophic inquiry and thinking, popularized by the solemn writings of Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre and others who told the world that there was no meaning of life except what we make of it (or don't). It put the human experience - not just in terms of cognition or scientific inquiry - but the human experience replete with emotions, feelings, the ordinary and the extraordinary.
However, the existential nature of the human experience lies in the fact that it can all just end in a second and disappear in a puff of smoke or the crash of a bullet. With cases of gun violence soaring in the US, searches around the themes of life and death and existentialism increased manifold.
As of now, citizens of Hong Kong are fighting by the thousands to resist China's overtures. Chile is facing its sixth week of countrywide protests against the government's ability to provide a good life. Indians are marching against the state's inability to provide safety to women after the visceral rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinarian whose charred remains are a stark reminder of the violence that all have got accustomed to.
But much like existentialist philosophy and the books of Camus, the word is also a reminder of another eternal aspect of the human experience - hope. It is a reminder of human will and agency that shapes their existence. Perhaps its time to tap into this existential agency and rely on it to do the right thing for a continued and meaningful existence.