10 August, 2022


To Be Or Not To Be?

By Jagath Asoka

Dr Jagath Asoka

According to the ancient Greeks, there are four human personalities: Sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric; our humors, the four bodily fluids—blood, black bile, phlegm, and yellow bile—control our personalities. Each humor is paired with one of the four basic elements: air, earth, fire, and water. The “phlegmatic type” (peaceful and relaxed) is a result of pairing phlegm and water—the cold, moist element. Having blood as the predominating bodily humor makes you sanguine (enthusiastic, active, and social). If you are choleric (short-tempered, fast, or peevish), blame your yellow bile; is it a blessing to have more black bile because it makes you melancholic (analytical, wise, and quiet)? The questions that I am going to ask, perhaps, will help you find out the person that you want to be; help you determine your New Year Resolutions. So, what is your humor?

As we grow older, our attitudes and expectations can change; some of us become wiser, more sociable, affable, and serene, and others end up being peevish, asinine, and cantankerous. You have the power to choose your path as you grow older. Self-knowledge can shape your life and help you choose.

I am going to focus on my best personality traits and make my worst traits enfeeble. The best way to find out about your best and worst traits is to ask your spouse and children. My son Rocco—also, the best editor that I have ever known—has been very helpful in this regard.

When you are faced with a difficult task, we have two choices: to shine through or to fail. We all know that resolve and persistence are the traits that help us shine when faced with difficulties.

Being a father—more than being an educator and a writer—has made me find answers to my own questions:

Here are some questions that I have been asking all my life: You can ask the same questions yourself.

Can people rely on you? Will you follow through your promises? If you cannot follow through, would you hide and avoid people, would you not answer their phone calls, or would you tell them why you could not keep your promises and make amends to resolve them? How you deal with these issues, say a lot about your personality.

Are you intellectually interested and creative? Even when you do not agree with others, are you capable of appreciating their nuanced perspectives? The world is always full of controversial issues; among many schizophrenic voices and views do not lose your own voice or let it drown; you can always be open-minded while maintaining your stance and opinion.

Are you capable of developing new skills and friendships? Do you expect everything to stay the same, or are you looking for novel solutions to existing problems? Will you adapt?

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Are you enthusiastic and fun-loving? Do you perform your tasks with alacrity, or everything is done perfunctorily? I am an introvert who has learned the deportment of an extrovert; just like others, I have a persona, a mask that I wear; I want my mask to be more translucent than opaque. Are you an energetic, outgoing individual who enjoys being with others? Are you capable of drawing energy form those you interact with? In a social setting, are you going to share your thoughts and opinions?  Are you at ease and confident in any social setting? Can you be a leader when you must lead, or a follower when you must follow? Do you hold yourself and others to high standards? All of us have both personal goals and career goals; would you sacrifice your career goals to raise a child? I think most mothers choose their children over their career. What is your style? What are your personal and career goals? Can you find a balance, or is it always one sided?

Be surrounded by people who bring the best traits out of you; sometimes, your family and friends can bring the worst out of you; I know that it is very difficult, but avoid your family and friends, if they bring the worst out of you, because sanity is the supreme bliss.

If you are looking for a career change, if I were you, here are the things that I would try to find out before I make that move; I can only share my experience with you: Over the last thirty-three years, I have taught at nine US universities and colleges, and have been a consultant—medical and technical writer—for chemical and pharmaceutical companies. So, what I have to say probably worth, at least, two cents.

You cannot find everything you need to know from a company’s website. Read the reviews of those who have worked for the company and what people like the most about working for the company. Find out not only what customers say about the company but also about its average tenure. Find out how they evaluate your performance; what are the challenges you are going to face, and what they expect you to get done in three months and in a year. 

Remember, there is a yenta in every social gathering; also, cognitive dissonance—to hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values simultaneously that make people’s behavior inconsistent with their beliefs—is more common than you think. it is seen both in theists and atheists, who adjust their beliefs to be more consistent with the evidence: cut them some slack, because a scientist might interpret these traits as birth defects.

As always, I think of my parents, relatives, and friends who are not here with us anymore; I have learnt many things from them; above all, they have taught me that Wisdom, Patience, and Faith always help, but laughter would make us happier. So, laugh as often as you can. Here is my wish: My life-long experiences would, at least, guide just one person, and that would be more than enough for me. A Healthy, Happy New Year to all of you!

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Long before the Greeks our Ayurveda vedas’ developed the concept of seven temperaments can be found in an individual : Vata (wind-dominated) Pitta (bile-dominated) Kapha (mucus-dominated) Kapha-pitta (dominated by a combination of wind and bile) Pitta-kapha (dominated by bile and mucus) Vata-kapha (dominated by wind and mucus) Vata-pitta-kapha (dominated equally by all three doshas). Also a combination of all of the above.

    Furthermore there were no people called Greeks before 1830. They were known as Dorians, Ionians, Spartans and Athenians etc in history. Modern Greece spreads across Europe, Asia Minor and Mediterranean islands and was ruled for long periods by Persians, Macedonians and Turks. The English and Germans funded a revolt of the Greek-speaking under-class to break the back of the powerful Ottoman Empire that had consistently defeated the Brits. In 1830 a Greek republic was formed with a German King. In 1860’s this king was killed (by the British ) and Greece became Helles ( Hell-us ) with a Danish King. Today Greek call themselves ” Helles ” not Greeks. The word ” Grec” in Latin was used by the roman empire for pagans who did not accept Jesus as their ” God ” during the 4th AD onwards.

  • 2

    Niro Should be correct. Jagath: Greeks should have said many things but every thing was mostly based on materialistic perceptions. Buddha was the expert of the mind. Even to date people try to understand who Buddha is. Read Buddhism to understand how Buddha has identified in many different ways. Greek ways are very superficial. but, the Budda’s way, you understand how true it is.

    • 1

      It is good to see, at least a SB like JimS, praise non-“Lankawe” — Indians Buddha.. but they usually dislike and insult even Indian Mahatma Gandhi.. . SBs always like to and getting happiness by insulting all other great people and great countries.. (it is okay to think we are the greatest, but insulting others !! how foolish??) Wasn’t “Ayurveda Vedas” done by Indian “Rishi Waru” … not in Siri Lankawe?
      Pythagorus-570BC (mathematics, metaphysics) , Socrates – 470BC and Aristotle , Plato are Greeks.. or consider as Greeks
      “Unexamined life not worth living”–Socrates… I guess Jagath has examined his life and shared his positive thoughts with us… at least we have to respect Jagath here..

  • 1

    It is a well written article, realistic, looking inwards too. Thank you for this Jagath Asoka

  • 0

    Jagath Asoka says that the Greeks classification of personalities to be ‘sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic and choleric’.
    It will help our self-assessment if Jagath examples known personalities and where they fit in.
    Politicians? Three more categories – corrupt, corrupt, corrupt.
    How did the Greeks miss these – after all they invented ‘Democracy’?

  • 0

    Hardest job to fail is being a parent. Specially people like you and I who are domiciled in the West. We have a cultural mindset very different and patriarchal and sometimes very sexist and patronizing too. Sadly a lot of South Asians do not even mingle or interact socially and culturally with people of the host nation they migrated to. My awesome daughter, who I hope will become an Engineer, and my very accomplished wife both remind me of my flaws. I am proud to say I chose to be the secondary income earner because of my wife’s qualifications and very proud of her accomplishments in academia and she is the hardest working person in my life.

    I dedicated myself to be a University Lecturer(not tenured faculty because I did not complete my PhD unlike you)/ teacher with patience but at home i was becoming impatient and irritable as time went by and gave way to my inferiority complexes as a third world person married to a first world highly accomplished person. So now. sometimes we sit together and discuss these issues that come up.

    This is a very nice article. Someone mentioned you recently at a Lankan wedding here. I cannot recall who now. A human can shine, succeed, get accolades and awards but if he or she fails as a parent it is the biggest flaw.

  • 0

    Nice piece Jagath Asoka. Thanks. A Happy New Year to you too and to everyone.

  • 0


    Recent studies of Tibetan Buddhist meditation by neuroscientists has shown that about 20,000 hours of meditation can fundamentally change the structure of the brain.

    Even though shorter periods of meditation can help people, it requires long years of sustained practice for it to really help transform people’s personalities.

    If a person can meditate for 20 hours per week, 50 weeks a year, that is 1000 hours a year.
    It will require 20 years of such practice to have a clear transformation, perhaps a more serene life.

    Maybe that is the difference between SL Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhists.

    Other activities like sports, exercises or prayers may have the same effect, but again have to be sustained over several years for people to see transformative benefits. Happy New Year!

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