I think it’s time to learn a new word: kairos.
The Greek word kairos literally translates to “time,” but in the field of rhetorical studies, kairos means more than that. It refers to the opportune occasion for speech or action. It’s kind of like saying, “Right place, right time,” but the meaning goes a little deeper than that.
The idea behind the principle of kairos is that any action or speech will be most effective only once, in just one specific intersection of time and place and audience. Just once.
Elon University students: If you’ve been waiting to speak or act, maybe now is your kairos.
I’ve been working for The Pendulum for almost four full academic years now. I remember almost every piece I’ve ever edited. In this position — being this immersed in the news and the people and the climate of this university — I notice patterns in what we care and talk about as a community.
Never in my four years do I remember feeling the kind of continual calls to student action that I do now.
Almost every week, I can expect to publish a piece about students coming together for some kind of community action. Last week it was the Global Solidarity March; in January, it was carpooling to the inauguration and Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C., and cities across North Carolina; this past September, it was the #BlackLivesMatter March; all throughout this academic year, it has been town halls and debates about speakers invited to campus, or North Carolina legislation or national policy. I could go on — and that’s the point.
Not that Elon students have only just started to realize the power of their voices and feet.
One of the first stories I ever edited for The Pendulum, in October 2013, was a story about the protests organized by students to keep Chick-fil-A off campus. In August 2014, on the front page of The Pendulum, the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha posed for a “hands up, don’t shoot” photo on Phi Beta Kappa Commons during the first College Coffee of the school year.
Now, though, I feel that Elon students are reacting even more strongly to the current social and political climate of our country and community. They’re organizing and getting out of their residence halls and bringing their passion to debates both in and out of the classroom. The university feels it, too, I’m sure — in offering a class like “Refusing to Wait: Intellectual and Practical Resources in Troubling Times” and speaking, through senior staff members, at student-organized events such as the #BlackLivesMatter March and the Global Solidarity March.
It seems to me that for those of us at Elon who believe strongly enough in something to want to do something about it, now is the kairos.
It’s the right time, as we settle into a new presidency, a new governorship and a new academic semester. It’s the right place, as House Bill 2 and other policies, such as the immigration executive order, force private North Carolina institutions to consider their role in politics and advocacy. It’s the right people, as Elon students with access to global education and support from the best mentorship any undergraduates could wish for.
Richard Broxton Onians, a 1900s classicist who earned eminence at the University of London, traced back the etymology of kairos to an association with archery. He wrote that the Greeks called kairos the moment that the archer has drawn back the arrow just far enough that, when released, it will plunge through the target.
Whatever your target is, I think now just might be the time to let go of your arrow.