It occurred to me recently that there are actual lessons to be learned from history. This was a crushing blow to me, a history teacher, because now I feel responsible for teaching my students life lessons. Not only do I need to teach them random pieces of trivia to make them successful with standardized tests, Trivial Pursuit, and hanging out with Alex Trebek, but I might need to teach them things that could actually improve their lives and general well-being.
After sitting around sucking on some lemons – which, for the record, tastes much worse than actual lemonade – I decided to turn the frown upside down. (I also realized turning lemons into lemon meringue pie is a much more sound decision.) Plus, the wisdom thunderbolt came from Facebook. This makes it therefore irrefutable, and surely in line with all the great thinkers of history.
Obviously, before I can try teaching life in a classroom it must be shared in the social media world. Isn’t the whole world a classroom? You can read Wikipedia pretty much anywhere, so this feels true. Knowing that we’re supposed to learn inspiring lessons from the past, I rethought a few historic figures and their significance. So here are lessons about overcoming apparent obstacles. With any luck, no fewer than 3 of them will be turned into After School Specials.
Aristotle was somehow able to build quite the following without the benefit of social media or reality television. You have to admit that is pretty overwhelming. Not only that, he had to communicate in complete sentences, and couldn’t use hashtags or boost his posts to make it seem like his ideas were popular. It’s almost as if logically sound ideas had value in and of themselves, and that true depth and thought was more significant than being famous for just being famous. And even with no “post history” for us to inspect and “like”, we still know who he is. A true zero to hero tale if I’ve ever heard one.
Napoleon Bonaparte was able to conquer a big chunk of the modern world with only one hand. He was reaching into his vest pocket, probably to snag some of the chocolate he swiped from Switzerland, when it got permanently stuck. And this wasn’t just any hand, but the right one. Take a look at any photo of him later in life, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s no wonder that he almost never retreated as a commander. He only had one hand, so he could only point in one direction. He chose forward, which is a lesson that practically takes care of itself. And thank goodness he didn’t live in a culture that wouldn’t shake his left hand because of what it was used for. (Even though that would surely make him a more sympathetic and triumphant figure.)
John Adams didn’t really have any friends, but somehow he got himself elected president. Not so bad when even your best friends, like Thomas Jefferson, stop talking to you, yet you can somehow get over half the US population to think you’re pretty alright. Not even “alright,” but the best they could do. With his abrasive personality, Adams was even able to get a smart, sexy woman to marry him and make future presidents together. So just remember John Adams when you’re sitting at home alone, unsuccessfully trying to get people to follow you on Twitter. You’re doing it, and you’re doing it well. Isolation and loneliness are the keys to success.
William Shakespeare will go down as possibly the greatest writer of all time, but what’s often forgotten is his lack of ability to spell. He personally made up over 3,000 words which we now count as part of the English language. This clearly stemmed from his lack of ability to spell many words properly. So instead of improperly spelling words, he would create new ones, which the reader then felt silly for not understanding. This is just a classic case of reverse-psychology and a stroke of genius on his part. There’s a lot to be learned from Shakespeare –not just about avoiding dating a girl who is going to try to poison you – and clearly we have. Why I have seen more than a few students in my day who I couldn’t understand half the words they used. But what I once rejected as weakness, I now embrace as brilliance.
Finally, Henry VIII cannot be overlooked. Here was a man who was clearly not lacking for want of a good meal. Many of us have struggled with weight issues – certainly this close to the holiday season – and Henry stands as a glistening inspiration to us all. Here he had a waist size of 58 inches, yet was still able to get 6 women to marry him. And these were not just any average kitchen wenches mind you. No, he was able to get princesses and noblewomen from loaded families to tie the knot. So take a page from Henry’s book, and make sure it’s a page of deliciously rich and fatty foods. It has been said, and it is true, that the way to a man’s heart is through his belly, but the tale of Henry VIII clearly shows that the way to a woman’s heart is his belly.
So go forth and turn your obstacles into opportunities. Like the great men of old, let the things that would have once held you back now free you to become legendary. As my good friend Patrick says, “even dead batteries have a plus side.” So find your plus side today, and make sure to turn those plus sides into lemon meringue pies like the good Lord intended.