What we learned, or should have learned, from the ancient Greek Trajedies is, that we must not hate each other, cause fear and resentment in others or seek revenge on fellow citizens for slights and wrongs we suffer, real or imagined. We must not harbor nor foster them by dwelling upon animosity because it is harmful to ourselves. Negative feelings, judgments and militant fantasies or intentions react badly upon us, physically and spiritually. They reduce our scope and power in various ways because body and spirit are one and the same. So intimately linked are they in fact and process as to be distinct in name only. The two different words possess and abuse us more than we own and use them. As a coin has two sides and an edge, so body and mind are two aspects of one thing. A coin’s edge denotes for us the fact that something mediates and supports the two aspects we call its “faces.” Our selves sustain body and spirit not as separate things but as twin aspects, body relatively structural, spirit relatively dynamic.
“State-of-the-art” outlook today no longer envisions spirits running around loose from bodies any more than we see candleflames flying around loose from candle-wicks. That belongs to an antique view still infecting many people only because it has survived from prehistory by staying embedded in most religions. Such religions inhabit people and inhibit the mental freedom and creative imagination needed to think their ways out of bondage to enduring customs and rigid habits of thought and speech. The sum of these customs and thought-ways is by definition one’s “culture.” Culture can cripple us as it simultaneously empowers. Unexamined, we live as if clutched in “the dead hand of the past.” Like a water-surface ignorant of belonging to a lake, we magnify ourselves in a false notion of existence.
The tragic vision of those Greek playwrights can bring us close to humane wisdom. Society and politics would benefit from a classical education, but now we are far too embued with pragmatism. Our times now bind us to practical mentality and behavior except in the fields of rationalization by which we justify what we are, have done, and want to happen. In these, we exercize the greatest flights of fancy and deceit, so great we typically fool ourselves and live to extend our foolishness to others. We can afford to do that because “we are always right.” We’re the good guys, honest and true. Right? And, if it happens we actually know better and see ourselves truthfully, who cares? Everything and everyone else is so screwed up, what does it matter how we are or what we do in the world. Right? Our political ‘religions’ give us “cookie-cutter” knowledge of all things important: our “cut-off” knowledge inside a bubble wherein we breathe and re-breathe our own speech-exhaust and that of our associates. Our thoughts are so importantly original. Right?
All the negativities mentioned can be classified as invidious. Envy and resentment are only parts of invidy. Invidy includes “schadenfreud,” the obtuse and shameful enjoyment of seeing harm and misery befall others whom we despise. Invidy springs from those who see themselves better than another, another who may seem to dominate their awareness. Invidy reduces humanity and pollutes goodness of heart and mind. (Old China had one word for mind and heart, not two.) Invidious feelings and motives shrink individuality, ruin families and destroy whole tribes and nations. Negative emotions harm and spread harm. They reduce blood flow to the cerebral cortex while increasing flow to the brain-stem and cerebellum, the so-called “crocodilian” brain, that vicious, self-serving animal in us. People of questionable goodness promote aggressive hatred and foster fearful imagery. Invidiousness short-circuits sociability and creative adaptation. It gradually damages the brains of all parties involved in it, giving or receiving.
If the fruit of tragic vision is wisdom about human affairs, so, too, comic vision yields relief from tragic consequence. It lets humanity overcome rigid custom while chance events overturn expected order, forcing people to band together creatively. Not snide snickerings out of covert sneers, but laughter, deep, free and spontaneous, is the greatest medicine we have and the most integrating experience we can know. Sheer joy is its closest cousin. Laughter is the remedy; joy signifies the health it helps to attain.