Perhaps you're familiar with the Robert Fulghum book entitled All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Well, with all due respect to Mr. Fulghum, that's a load of crap. All that I learned in Mrs. Fisk's kindergarten class was that musical chairs is the worst game ever invented and, while tasty, craft paste is not food.
Not exactly life-long lessons, those.
I learned a hell of a lot more from watching Saturday morning cartoons. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour (...and oh what heights we'll hit. On with the show, this is it!) was an outstanding teacher, as were the Flintstones, Popeye, and the rest. If a kid paid attention, all of life's most valuable lessons were right there in full-color animation.
Here's what I learned:
Lesson One: Always listen carefully. When engaged in conversation, it is critical to pay careful attention to what the other person is saying. This way, you'll be able to understand his point of view and formulate an appropriate response. The world is full of manipulative schemers, and the ability to identify important information while discarding the jibberish is essential. Take, for example, the banter between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in the classic episode Rabbit Seasoning:
Bugs (to Elmer Fudd): Okay, Doc, you got me. Would you like to shoot me now, or wait till you get home?
Daffy: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!
Bugs: You keep out of this, he doesn't have to shoot you now.
See what Bugs did right there? By changing the word "me" to "you", he's turned the situation on its side, making Daffy the potential target for Elmer. Daffy doesn't pick up on this, and falls right into the trap:
Daffy: Well, I say he DOES have to shoot me now! So shoot me now!
Of course Elmer, ever the obedient sap, takes aim and fires, blasting Daffy in the face and causing his beak to spin 'round and 'round. If only Daffy had listened carefully, he could have avoided such humiliation.
Lesson Two: There's a fine line between perseverance and foolishness. Everyone's heard the inspiring phrase, "If at first you don't succeed, try try again." Most of the time that's pretty sound advice, but if one keeps failing over and over again, doesn't there come a point when giving up is the best option? If you're a complete failure, just come to grips with it and change your course entirely.
To illustrate this point, let's use Wile E. Coyote. Wile's one and only goal was to catch, and presumedly eat, Road Runner. At first, his focus and determination were admirable. He developed a plan of attack, made use of all available resources (mainly Acme products), and didn't let a little failure get in his way. But let's be realistic here. How many times does one have to be hit by a train, flung from a catapult, hurled off a 200-foot cliff, engulfed in flame, rocketed into the side of a mesa, or smashed by a falling boulder before he says, "fuck it, I'm going to Denny's"?
What we can learn from Wile E. Coyote is that sometimes you have to admit defeat and move on.
Lesson Three: Maintain a healthy diet. This one is pretty simple. Big Macs, Snickers bars, and Dr. Pepper do not a healthy body make. If you want to grow up big and strong, you have to eat right and exercise. Who demonstrates this concept more clearly than Popeye the Sailor Man?
Freakishly muscular forearms aside, Popeye did not cut an intimidating profile. He was much smaller, for example, than his nemesis Bluto. Early in every episode, Bluto would get the better of Popeye, pushing him around and stealing the inexplicably-in-demand Olive Oyl. When his frustration reached a certain point, Popeye would break into song, eat a can of spinach, and proceed to kick Bluto's ass. He was strong to the finish, 'cause he ate his spinach.
Got that kids? Eat your veggies.
Lesson Four: Cleverness is more important than brute strength. To illustrate this one, we'll go back to Bugs Bunny. Bugs was a scrawny rabbit, incapable of surviving on strength and power. He had to use his cunning to deal with such villains as the Crusher, Giovanni Jones, the Gashouse Gorillas, and the ever-present, shotgun-toting Elmer Fudd.
In Ali Baba Bunny, Bugs is confronted by an enormous, sword-wielding oaf named Hassan, a middle eastern sociopath who terrorized intruders with the battle cry, "HASSAN CHOP!" To elude said chopping, Bugs had to not only deal with a greedy, narrow-minded companion in Daffy Duck, he also had to figure out a way to outsmart Hassan. Certainly, Bugs was incapable of engaging him in hand-to-sword combat.
So what did Bugs do? He crammed himself into a bottle and pretended to be a magical genie. Hassan released Bugs from the bottle, and faster than you can say "Iggity aggity oop, ah ah," Hassan was foiled.
Sure, being able to rip one's enemies limb from limb is a wonderful skill to have, but a sharp mind is even more valuable. Remember, John Gotti wasn't a big guy either. He simply used his brain. Well, his brain and a virtual army of neckless goombahs, but I think you see my point.
Lesson Five: Be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. As any good Boy Scout knows, being prepared is the key to success. In the world of Saturday morning cartoons, it is Foghorn Leghorn who provides us with the best example of this. On at least three occasions, Foghorn gets himself into situations where his feathers are completely blown off of his body. Embarrassing, to say the least. But instead of wandering around the barnyard buck naked, Foggy proudly declares, "Luckily, I keep a spare in my locker for just such an emergency." He zips up the spare, and he's good to go. In another episode, in a similar situation, Foghorn states, "I always keep my feathers numbered, for just such an emergency." Numbering one's feathers? That, my friends, is preparation.
The wisdom of Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Popeye, and many others serves as a blueprint for a lifetime of success. Even the hapless Wile E. Coyote provides us with a clear example of what not to do. So the next time you're feeling down or you need some emotional guidance, there's no need to panic. Just turn on the Cartoon Network. I'm sure you'll find the words you need to pick yourself up and move on.