Things I Disadmire About the Human Race: Rant No. 2: We Don’t Learn

Things I Disadmire About the Human Race: Rant No. 2: We Don’t Learn

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.”  Jim Rohn

You know how sometimes you can hear the same words for a hundred years and not be impressed at all, and then one day, for some reason, they hit you in the head like an anvil? That’s what this Jim Rohn quote did to me when I found it in an online course I’m taking.

It’s a lesson that virtually every parent teaches:  suffer the pain of brushing and flossing your teeth, or suffer the pain of dentist visits and, ultimately, toothlessness.  I mean, whose mama didn’t try to drill that into them? (No pun intended!)

Suffer the pain of refraining from eating whatever you want, or suffer the pain of regret when you go up another size. Ouch!

Suffer the pain of paying for your car insurance, or suffer the pain of not being covered at a license check, or Heaven forbid, after a wreck.

Life is composed of choices, and for a whole lot of them, we don’t want either choice.  I’m not crazy about sending State Farm all that money every month, but it’s better than being caught with my automotive pants down.

Back in the day, when I was teaching fifth-graders, I tried to teach this lesson to them in this way: You can’t pick up one end of a stick.

I’d let them try.  Put your pencil on your desk.  Now pick up one end of it and put it behind your ear, and leave the other end on the desk.  Can’t be done, they’d say. They were right. Smart kids. Sometimes I’d even be clever enough to attach something to one end of the pencil and then hide it with a piece of paper.  Sometimes it was a piece of candy; sometimes it was an empty candy wrapper.

The point was, since you can’t pick up one end of the stick, you’d be well advised to think about what might be on the other end.

Think about the end at the beginning. (Thanks, Steven Covey!)

It’s such a basic idea; you’d think we’d finally get it, but most people don’t.  They act impulsively and are astonished when things go bad.

That’s why the human race can’t get ahead.  Every generation seems to have to learn all the life lessons for itself. We can pass on our technology to the next generation, but not our hard-won wisdom.

Study hard – get good grades.  Play video games instead – get bad or mediocre grades.

Go to bed at a reasonable time – feel okay the next day.  Stay up too late – be tired and groggy the next day.

Drink too much and then drive yourself home – choose your tragedy, from jail to getting a ticket to killing someone.  Drink responsibly, or ride home with a sober friend – avoid possible tragedy.

This ain’t hard, people.  It’s not rocket science.

We had a good-but-bad example of this in my neighborhood a few days ago.

My neighbor, a very nice lady who is 75 years old and was on her way home  got hit in the brand-new Honda CR-V just before she reached her driveway.  A young guy, who obviously hadn’t yet picked up enough sticks with unintended consequences, topped the hill coming toward her going faster than was reasonable AND in the wrong lane.

Look at the stick he picked up.  Carolyn will be okay, it seems, so he didn’t kill anybody, but look how he has complicated his own life.  He’s facing legal consequences, the reaction of his parents, his insurance company, and his neighbors, because he lives in the same community; and the regret that will follow him from now on.  He rammed somebody’s grandma, for Pete’s sake. You don’t do that. You just don’t.

Hopefully, he learned a valuable lesson, but it would have cost him a lot less to have been more mindful and checked the other end of that stick that had getting out of the neighborhood quickly on it.

So why don’t we learn cheap lessons?  Because we are hard-headed, and when young, tend to think nothing bad can happen to us; and when older, tend to think we can handle the situation because of our competence, skill, money, or charm and good looks.

In other words, we all have to learn the life lessons for ourselves.


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