Life’s Lessons and Aphorisms

Lately I have privately lamented that the typical education of our children does not include what I call “life’s lessons”, that is, those ordinary pronouncements which go beyond the drudgery of specific disciplines and which are directed instead to the general and perhaps less dazzling deportment of one’s daily affairs. When formal education is over, after high-school and university (after the endorsement of one’s thesis for a Master’s Degree or Doctorate), the unsuspecting young adult is thrown into the heartless forum of commerce and retail, perfidious “real life”. On the heels of what is commonly the deprivation of youth and the fiction of scholarship (during which reality is temporarily suspended), one is subsequently served up endless choices many of which are motivated by postponed craving. This enthusiasm needs to be curbed by informed intelligence. Recognizably we are a consumptive society and the unchecked submission to its urges is an inevitable malignancy.

Recently I read with interest that Justin Bieber (the Canadian pop musician, actor and singer-songwriter) is promoting a debit card for young people. At first blush this seems both maverick and unwise. Pointedly however he noted that whether you earn $100 per year or $100M per year, if you spend more than you make, you’re broke. This axiomatic intelligence is intoxicating. It is both blunt and obvious but that is what is needed. Mr. Bieber went on to confide to his faithful youthful audience that one has to save a little, spend a little. Again, this is the evident caution but nonetheless sage advice that was so lacking when I was growing up. I know that Mr. Bieber is undoubtedly paid handsomely by SmartCard for his endorsement but I think it is worth every dollar.

As much as I might prefer to think that any wisdom I have assimilated over the years is the product of my own inventiveness, the sad fact remains that I am the last person to appropriate such celebrity. Admittedly it is only by stark realisation that I have any claim whatsoever to the probity of life’s lessons. Now with the benefit of age, experience and repeated mistakes, the proven truths by which to conduct one’s life literally scream at me. For example, I am unceasingly impressed by those who adopt a candid approach to life. This may seem to trivialize the posture, but candidness is anything but inconsequential. The ability to see the pores and poisons of life is no small accolade; and the inclination and resolution to express them is an even greater tribute.

Recognizing the rigidity of life is very much a part of the adjustment to its exigencies, everlasting concepts such as supply and demand. Nonetheless such uninspiring notions, as important as they are to a theory of economics, have been dismissed as the painful elaboration of the obvious. Retailing such mundane truths especially to young people who believe their frontiers are endless is an up-hill battle. It is equally monotonous to market the counsel that indulgence in superfluity, while temporarily satisfying, is destined to the same garbage heap of irrelevance as any other vanity.

Blazing ostentation is not something peculiar only to the former Roman emperors. The difference is they frequently had the wherewithal to support such vulgarity. It is however a derivative lesson that behaving like an emperor is the surest way to procure your early demise. Children need to be taught that having the fastest, the biggest, the best and the most are not useful paradigms by which to live. Such instruction however goes entirely against the grain of society. Modesty is hardly a popular commodity and it is more often than not equated with deficiency.

The balancing of one’s resources includes of course one’s physical resources. Movements in the United States against obesity are long overdue. Children must be warned against plundering their personal capital of health without which naturally all else is lost.

I am aware that many of life’s lessons come off as negative and for that reason alone are less than appetizing. Yet all of us know that if we had been more studied in our approach to living we could have spared ourselves a great deal of trouble. This leaves me wondering why in the world we haven’t any courses in our schools which tackle life’s lessons. Granted it is not easy to formulate instruction on the mere topic of living but I can’t but think it would be worth the effort.