The Value of “Life Lessons”

There’s been a lot of talk about life lessons among my peers. Now that we are fully fledged adults, we are somewhat without guidance and the idea of good advice is very attractive. I’ve seen several collections of advice from various famous “successful” people. While I appreciate the sentiment of sharing what we perceive as valuable concepts, I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of anything classed as “life lessons”. Who can claim to have wisdom that is applicable to everyone? Why would standard evaluations of success like fame and wealth imply the existence of special knowledge or wisdom? I’m being somewhat ironic and possibly hypocritical, since I’ll probably publish a list of valuable advice that I’ve received on this very blog. Nevertheless, I would like to explore the value of these nuggets of wisdom.

Many pieces of advice are not really applicable to everyone. A good example is the virtue of persistance. Everyone lauds the value of persistance. Examples are given of writers who labored for decades over books or Edison’s famous lightbulb attempts. But much as Edison’s entire legacy is a farce, persistance is not always valuable. Sometimes you have to give up. When a Japanese soldier keeps fighting World War II for thirty years, its impressive, but not something to imitate. When a creeper stalks someone long after its been clear that they aren’t interested, that’s not admirable, it’s weird. Someone’s capacity for persistance needs to be mediated by their capacity for perspective.

Similarly, most advice about how to relate to other people tends to depend on the advice giver’s personality. Someone who says, “You can’t motivate people.” probably has a lot of difficulty motivating others. But many others have potential for leadership that they have not yet tapped. Someone suggesting that we follow our own path and follow the road less traveled may find that a valuable rule to follow. Others might find it valuable to work to interface with with others and value outside input. What works for someone’s personality, habits, and mindset may not work for others.

Finally, I’m inherent skeptical of any suggestion that entails moral judgement. “Fear is the root of all evil” or “TV is the greatest black hole of time available to mankind” inherently oversimplify the subject matter. They are interpretations that may be helpful to someone, but are fundamentally meaningless.

That being said, there are many pieces of advice that are valuable for many people. I recently received one of the most meaningful pieces of advice I’ve ever heard from such a list. But I will save that for a later post.


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