Who Will Offer Us A Working Definition Of Insanity?

August 15, 2012 Alistair McHarg

As many of you know, I am a devotee of quotations – those bite-sized nuggets of wisdom summarizing great truths of life quickly and with wit.

Some years back, in a cold, dingy room choked to the gills with cigarette smoke, bad coffee, tattoos, and incomprehensible blather uttered badly by battered bikers, businessmen, beauticians and stay at home moms, united in anonymous terror, I first heard this said.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Later I found that this pearl of wisdom is credited to everybody’s favorite patent clerk, Albert Einstein. However… The more time I spent on the Internet the more I realized that roughly half of all quotes found there are bogus. Some are real but credited to the wrong author; others are totally made up and attributed to a famous, credible person.

This aphorism fails to deliver a comprehensive definition of insanity, but it does dramatically showcase one particularly annoying aspect of it. So, I went to, the final authority when it comes to debunking twaddle, and learned that the actual author is unknown. Einstein is one of the possible ones, but Benjamin Franklin is an equally valid contender. Remaining votes are split between Rita Mae Browne and “ancient Chinese proverbs”.

After careful thought I realized that how one feels about this shopworn sample of folk wisdom might depend enormously on the credibility of its source. In the spirit of intellectual honesty I tracked down other quote-worthy sentiments from these four diverse resources. They follow.

Albert Einstein Quotes

A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?

Table, chair, bowl of fruit, violin; what else does a man need to be happy?

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.

Ben Franklin Quotes

A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

A house is no home lest it contain food and fire for the mind as well as body.

Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.

Ancient Chinese Proverbs

Stout men, not stout walls, make the stout city.

Oh eggs; don't fight with rocks.

A whitewashed crow soon shows black again.

Dogs have no prejudice against the poor.

Rita Mae Brown

The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you.

Art is moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and entertainment without moral passion is television.

Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.

I am a comic writer, which means I get to slay the dragons, and shoot the bull.

APA Reference
McHarg, A. (2012, August 15). Who Will Offer Us A Working Definition Of Insanity?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Alistair McHarg

Life Lessons
August, 18 2012 at 1:34 pm

Maybe I'm not crazy, I'm just surrounded by people who don't care about others. Or, I just don't like people.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alistair McHarg
August, 18 2012 at 1:45 pm

Does not caring about others mean a person is crazy?

August, 15 2012 at 12:35 pm

I love Ben Franklin's quote "A countryman between 2 lawyers is like a fish between two cats." My cats will cheerfully fill in as the two cats, and they want to know if it's a tuna fish. I was having a bout with depression, before I was diagnosed with bipolar, and thought the principal I worked for was out to get me. My doc at that time told me "just because you think someone is out to get you, doesn't necessarily mean you are wrong. I got laid off, so I guess I was right. All the best for this week. Cindy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alistair McHarg
August, 15 2012 at 12:40 pm

just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not all out to get you
comforting words
have a great week!

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