On our way home from work yesterday, Clayton and I happened upon the subject of life lessons and how one goes about learning them. Our conversation let me to the conclusion that different areas of the U.S. seem to have a distinctly different way of teaching these lessons, the southern parts specifically. Which led me to identify what I’ve taken to calling the Southern School of Life Lessons.
In this school, there is an event, followed by an action. One more knowledgeable person is essentially “the instructor” to a second, less-knowledgeable person (“The Idiot) attempting to perform an action, which is common known as A Stupid Action. After performing A Stupid Action, The Idiot (hopefully) derives a two-fold lesson: (s)he learns about Bad Ideas, which is what (s)he just did, and Good Ideas, which are implied by being the opposite of the Bad Idea. One warning precedes A Stupid Action, whereupon if it’s ignored, the “instructor” waits calmly while A Stupid Action is performed. Then, when the Bad/Good Idea is made apparent, a single comment, usually rephrasing the original warning, is voiced. The Idiot is left to learn at his/her own pace, which sometimes means repeating A Stupid Action until the lesson sinks in. Pain and/or humiliation are often the primary vehicles of the lesson, and there may or may not be An Audience. For example:
I remembered a line from a Jeff Foxworthy standup about redneck parenting: you might be a redneck if your “entertainment center” consists of a bigscreen on top of a fold-up TV dinner tray. Then when the baby starts pulling on the TV cord, “Naw, leave him alone. Let him pull that TV down on his head. He’ll only do it once!”
Clayton’s Stupid Action:
When he was younger (10-12ish?) and in Boy Scouts, he was going on a camping trip, and his mom had reminded him a few times in the days leading up to the trip to remember his sleeping bag. Of course, he proceeded to forget it entirely, and, following Murphy’s Law, there happened to be a freak cold snap that summer where the temperature dipped below 30* that night and all the scouts earned their Polar Bear badges. Clayton, embarrassed that he’d forgotten his stuff, of course didn’t tell anyone and slept on the ground with only a thin blanket for cover. The kicker for me was that his mom, because she’d reminded him a few times before, decided to let him learn a lesson The Hard Way and didn’t bring him the bag when he realized that he’d left it.
When I heard this, my first reaction was horror. Below freezing? That could’ve been dangerous for a kid that young! And I was all like, Why didn’t you share a sleeping bag with someone else? Why didn’t you tell the scout leader? Why didn’t your mom drive out with your sleeping bag when she realized how cold it was going to get? To which Clayton replied, “The No. 1 rule in Boy Scouts, the one they drill into you from day 1, is to Always be prepared. No way was I about to admit that I’d forgotten to follow one of the main rules! But I’ll tell you what—I never forgot my sleeping bag again.” And that got me to thinking about instances where I was given a hard-and-fast life lesson The Hard Way by someone else.
This is not a lesson my parents often treated me to, both thankfully and unfortunately. Thankfully, because I was raised in the environment of multiple warnings, always with a “final” or “last” warning (as in, “This is your last warning! I’m not gonna tell you again!”), but few moments of being allowed to get hurt by falling on my face for the sake of being taught a lesson; it does seem a bit mean and I’m very appreciative of my parents’ patience. But, I also say “unfortunately,” b/c I also respect the other side of this method for the fact that the recipients often DO learn the lesson in that instance (after they’ve gotten out of their body casts). If they don’t….well, then that’s really Darwinism in action, isn’t it? Which is why I think I support the idea of the Southern School of Life Lessons.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve learned plenty of lessons The Hard Way. My skull has evolved to a death-defying thickness, such that it’s a curiosity to me how I’ve managed to live this long. But I think I’ve managed to miss out on the Southern School of Life Lessons’s primary goal, which is to teach you not to do X-action again. What I’ve gotten out of the Southern School is a compound lesson: 1) X-action is a bad idea, but 2) if you’re going to do X-action, find a way around getting hurt so that you still get what you want. I don’t know if this is extreme stupidity or cleverness on my part, but I’m going to consider this a positive thing.
Case in point: chasing geese, aka Dani’s Stupid Action:
When I was young, I was riding my pony in a paddock when I saw a flock of Canadian geese settle across the area, on the other side of a small pool of water. Feeling ambitious and not unlike National Velvet, I proceeded to gallop my pony into action, jumping a small log, splashing through the water like I was in Rolex, and roaring right through the flock with a Xena yell. This sent the geese into the air with a satisfying amount of chaos and left me feeling like I’d just saved the day and my pony into eye-rolling snorts of terror (since she wasn’t too much bigger than the geese themselves). I stopped my pony and grinned proudly at my Mom. What I didn’t realize was that while I was busy gloating, the entire flock of geese, being Canadian and therefore vengeful, were making a tight u-turn and heading right for me and my pony while our backs were turned. They buzzed us much the same way I’d buzzed them, and my pony bucked, and I ended up on my face in a mudhole with ripped chaps.
Now, the Southern School of Life Lessons would have me believe this fact: chasing geese, especially while on horseback, is a Bad Idea. My “instructors” would be hateful French geese, and my Mom The Audience. But I’ve learned a number of lessons from this:
- Chasing geese is fun enough to warrant repeating, even if it winds up with one being face-first in mud with ripped chaps.
- Never chase geese while on a pony; only chase geese when you’re riding a taller horse. Especially if it breathes fire.
- Chasing geese with a fire breathing horse reduces the number of geese that will survive to attempt an act of revenge.
- When one does not have a horse on which to chase geese, one must have a clear escape route.
- One must plan the escape route before engaging the geese.
- A fire-breathing horse is the optimal geese chasing weapon, since even Canadian geese are smart enough to realize they’ll never be as cool as the fire-breathing horse, and therefore won’t try to enact revenge simply because they’ll realize that 1) their chances of winning are so slight as to be nonexistent, 2) their coolness points will only further diminish by trying to attack something so much cooler than they are, and 3) the fire-breathing horse still won’t talk to them in the cafeteria, even if they DID manage to enact sufficient revenge on it.
Simple logic. And that is why the Southern School of Life Lessons is beneficial. Because it leads to creative solutions. As Most Highly Respected Anonymous Readers, have you had the luxury of attending the Southern School of Life Lessons? I’d be very interested in knowing not only the Stupid Action, but also if you learned some creative solutions. 🙂