1. A Comedy and a Tragedy

“This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” — Horace Walpole

There are many online variations of this quote. Usually, the attribution goes to Horace Walpole, an English writer from the 18th century (who wrote The Castle of Otranto, among other books).

Many are aware of the popular MBTI typology system and its Feeling/Thinking dimension. According to this theory, we habitually prefer either a Feeling function (introverted or extroverted) or a Thinking function (introverted or extroverted). Depending on your type’s cognitive function stack, you make decisions, primarily, with either Feeling or Thinking.

Whether you believe in the MBTI or not (“It’s not scientifically validated!”), it does acknowledge that we all use each of the eight functions; the difference is in our preference order. As an interesting side note, Isabel Myers-Briggs, one of the MBTI’s co-creators, was likely an INFP.

Anyway, why is the world a tragedy to those who feel? It may be because they are blessed with the gift of empathy, feeling the pains of marginalized and suffering others (regardless of their degree of familiarity or similarity).

And why can life seem like a comedy when we think about it? Well, when we consider how fundamentally unfair, absurd, and unpredictable life is, it can all seem like some sort of “cosmic joke”! Sometimes, life is so tragically ridiculous that you just need to have a sense of humor about it all.

Fortunately, studies indicate that maintaining this healthy sense of humor provides mental health benefits.

2. Nobody Asked for This

“I did not ask for the life that I was given, but it was given nonetheless, and with it, I did my best.” — Mr Eko (Lost)

In the season three Lost episode, “The Cost of Living,” Mr Eko, a Nigerian priest, reminisces about what he had to do in his younger years to survive and protect himself and his family.

No person requested the social, political, religious, economic, familial, environmental, and so on conditions into which they were born, or their individual characteristics. Nobody asks to come into existence at all.

And whether we truly have free will (or just its illusion) has divided philosophers for centuries. In contemporary times, illuminating neuroscientific studies have contributed to the free will discussion.

Though most things—if not all things—are likely beyond our control, we are often blamed for them or judged as though we got what we deserved (the just-world hypothesis). But is any individual 100% to blame?

3. You’re Not Just a Drop in the Ocean

“You are the drop, and the ocean.” — Rumi

Rumi, a well-known Persian-speaking poet, Islamic scholar and theologian, and Sufi mystic from the 13th century, has provided the world with many wonderful quotes. There is some uncertainty about exactly which town he was born in, but his birthplace is either modern-day Afghanistan or Tajikistan.

You may have come across a similar quote attributed to Rumi: “You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the entire ocean in a drop.” This is probably a mistranslation derived from one of his poems (as included below).

According to a Quora commenter (Randy Scharlach), “Rumi is discussing the non-duality of everything that exists, or rather, that at a fundamental level, everything in the universe is created from the same conscious energy.”

In most Western intellectual traditions, the origin is material. An individual’s solitary consciousness and self arise from physical reality, i.e., their particular brain. But how do atoms and molecules create subjective self-hood? In many Eastern traditions, universal consciousness is the root of existence and precedes material reality.

So, we are not just a lone drop (an individual brain) but the entire ocean in a drop (universal consciousness). An interesting interpretation!

Here’s the poem:

You are the drop, and the ocean

You are kindness, you are anger

You are sweetness, you are poison

Please do not dishearten me

You are the chamber of the sun

You are the abode of Venus

You are the garden of all hope

Oh Beloved, please let me enter

4. Should You Forgive?

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope

As with many of these quotes, this proverb dates back centuries. It was written in 1711 by the English poet Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism, Part II. The meaning is pretty straightforward: everyone makes mistakes, and we should strive to be our higher selves and find it in ourselves to forgive them. Many times, easier said than done!

According to The Grammarist, the “divine” aspect refers to forgiveness as “an imitation of the mercy of God.” It is kind of ironic then that numerous, long-standing conflicts have revolved around religion (and territory and resources, of course!) when mercy and compassion are often central to these teachings.

Pope’s words were perhaps inspired by Greek philosopher Plutarch, who stated: “For to err in opinion, though it be not the part of wise men, is at least human.” Who qualifies as a “wise (wo)man” is open to interpretation.

5. Our Intersectional Realities

“Black women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see Black women. White women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see women. White men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see human beings.” — Michelle Haimoff

To round out this article, I’ve included a quote by a contemporary woman. Many of us live in diverse societies, so it is beneficial to consider our different forms of privilege and how society marginalizes certain individuals due to the intersecting aspects of their identities.

An intersectional approach highlights how a woman of color in Western society, for instance, may experience unique types of discrimination based on being (1) a woman and (2) a person of color. They may face obstacles that white women or men of color do not necessarily encounter.

The concept of intersectionality, named by Kimberlé Crenshaw, extends beyond race and sex. It encompasses every aspect of one’s lived experience, identity, and self-hood.

Think of the “ideal” promoted by your society. And how might anyone “deviating” from this “ideal” — especially, if they wildly deviate — be subject to various forms of discrimination and marginalization?

6. Power and Society

“Who will guard the guardians?” — Juvenal

This phrase is the English translation of the Latin, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” It may also be translated as “Who will watch the watchers?”

From the day we’re born, we’re subjected to all kinds of power dynamics and hierarchies-not of our choosing. First, it is our parents. Then, the sphere expands to all other adults. And the pecking order dynamics also encompass other kids.

As adults ourselves, we begin to realize that those all-powerful figures were once just naïve children also. And like us, they were forced to adapt and compromise as best they could to secure some degree of psychological safety.

In the worst cases, the narcissistic schoolyard bully becomes a CEO or politician. Or, after another series of unfortunate events, perhaps you develop unhealthy ways to cope with the pain of what you’ve been through. Who will guard the guardians, let alone protect those further down the ladder?

7. Within You, Without You

“As above, so below. As within, so without. As with the universe, so with the soul.” — The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus

Popular among New Agers and esotericists, the phrase “As above, so below” reminds us that the sacred is reflected in daily life. These words originate from the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, translated into Latin in the 12th century. The tablet proclaims: “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above.”

Commentators have described the slab as “the original source of hermeticism, gnosticism, Western alchemy and science.” Those familiar with the tarot may be aware that the Magician card contains imagery symbolic of the “As above, so below” sentiment, as the figure’s hands point upward and downward.

From a psychodynamic viewpoint, “As within, so without” is true. Through our five senses, we retrieve stimuli from the external environment and filter them through our central nervous systems and minds to interpret and respond to them.

What we perceive as “real” is a reflection of ourselves rather than an objective “reality.” We encounter the world not as it is but as we are.

8. Seeds of Our Own Destruction?

“Those who wish to take the world and control it, I see that they cannot succeed.” — Lao Tzu

The Tao Te Ching was written over 2,000 years ago, dating to around the 4th century BCE. Most sources cite Lao Tzu (Laozi) as the author of this classic collection of spiritual literature. However, it was probably added to and modified later by different authors and editors.

The Dao De Jing enjoys numerous English adaptations and translations. In essence, though, Chapter 29 warns against attempts to control, conquer, or “improve” the world or universe (and tamper with the Tao, the Way). Humans adhere to Earth, Earth to Heaven, and Heaven to the Tao.

The passage from Chapter 29 that I’m referencing goes:

Those who wish to take the world and control it

I see that they cannot succeed

The world is a sacred instrument

One cannot control it

The one who controls it will fail

The one who grasps it will lose

If we look at the state of the planet now, we can see that Lao Tzu’s musings have come to fruition. But today’s young people are far better educated and more worldly than any previous generation, so hopefully, their future isn’t as grim as anticipated.