“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune” … alright, that’s about as much Hamlet as I remember. It is a valid question though, not in the depressing, “oh woe is me, is life worth living” kind of way, but rather, what is the value in both life and death?
If we carry on the soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet sees the value in challenging the misfortunes of life, and perhaps, ending them. There is much ambiguity in life, there’s an incredible amount of unknown, of pure chance, of right place right time and the opposite. Later in life, upon reflection, one may think, “why had I worried so much,” or, “it all worked out in the end,” and to that I say, hindsight 20/20. I enjoy listening to Jordan B. Peterson, he’s an engaging philosopher with a call-to-action approach. In his eyes, there are about seven facets of life under your control, and these highly affect your quality of life; friends, an intimate relationship, a career that you like, qualifications, hobbies, drug or alcohol problems, and behavioral issues that you can deal with. It’s a reasonably long list, and a challenging one at that, tackling just one of these seven things is a task in and of itself. Hamlet categorizes these things as a “sea of troubles,” they can truly be your demise or your greatest success. Perhaps fulfilling all or most of these pursuits is a life well-lived, something to be proud of, and a reason to be.
Not to be, well, that isn’t a thought we’d like to put into our heads, but it is a reality that we consider every now and again. To “end the heart-ache and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” Hamlet says, not to be. “To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream,” not to be. Similar to the pain of life, the unknown, there is a similar pain in death, the unknown. A place where everyone goes and no one returns, at least that we know of.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right? Hamlet sees this as cowardice, that we’d prefer to carrying on with our sufferings rather than move into the unknown, yes there is a possibility it’s worse, though it could also be much better. This is not a matter of preferring death to life, rather, it coincides with many of the challenges we face in life when we’d prefer our “comfort” over the thing or opportunity with potential. What we may need is not physical death, but instead a death to our previous self, to become something greater, or at least, different.
Ideally, we find fulfillment both above and, when the time comes, below ground.
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