A Blog by Scott Isaacs

RTLB #3: Pain Is The Best Teacher

This is the third in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #3:

Pain is the best teacher.

I really don’t think anything else needs to be said.  I won’t let that stop me, though.  🙂

If, hypothetically, I was a betting man, and if, hypothetically, I had a dollar to bet, I’d bet a dollar that when you read this rule, you thought of some experience in your life where you were hurt in some way, physically, emotionally, or otherwise.  If I had another dollar, I’d bet that, since that experience, you’ve done everything you can to avoid a repeat experience.

If, hypothetically, I owe you $2, let me know.

So, what’s my point? Pain is unavoidable. Unfortunately, learning from pain is avoidable. Just because pain is the best teacher does not mean that I am an observant student.

Let me explain by analogy. Sure, it’s easy for my two year old daughter to remember to keep her hand off of the stove if it’s burned her before (it hasn’t, by the way), but that probably hasn’t taught her to stay away from the hot water valve in the bath tub. Why not? It’s, of course, because she is too immature to see the correlation.

Ouch. Immature. See where I’m going here? If not, I owe you another dollar. Hypothetically.

Pain is the best teacher, but we can be too immature to learn everything from it that we should. Note that I am not talking about immature in the “adult acting like an irresponsible teenager” way here; that’s an entirely different issue. It’s more about inexperience and lack of wisdom to some degree.

Nobody wants to admit that they are immature, and many of us may not even realize that we are. But we are. All of us are immature; no one is 100% mature, just possibly less immature than others.

“But, Scott,” you ask, “how do I become less immature?” Good question. The answer is simple: you need to become more wise. To paraphrase the best-selling book of all time, the first sign of wisdom is to seek wisdom. Wisdom is free for the asking.

With wisdom comes maturity, and with maturity comes the ability to learn even more and to gain even more wisdom. It’s a vicious cycle except that it’s not so vicious. Simply by seeking wisdom, you become more wise. As your wisdom increases, it becomes easier to see how “all of the pieces” fit together.

Suddenly, lessons taught by pain have so much more value than they did before. As my daughter grows, she will learn that the burns don’t come from the stove; the burns are caused by heat and the stove is just a thing that makes heat.

The best teacher is unavoidable. Let’s become more observant students.

I really don’t think anything else needs to be said — unless you have some comments.


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  1. http://

    Is it possible that if pain is best teacher then the wisest teacher is to observe others in pain?

  2. Maybe, but I dont think you will learn *as much* from someone else’s pain. I’m not saying I’m the expert here. This is just what I think.

  3. Good RTLB, as long as you make it clear to your child(ren) that it is important to ‘get back on the horse.’ Pain can also be what turns us completely away from what would otherwise be a rewarding pursuit (we instinctively react emotionally to pain, not rationally). It is important to us as parents to mold the lessons our kids learn from pain. The ‘immature’ mind may think, “I never want to get on a snowboard again”. It is up to us to to turn that instinctive but inhibiting generalization into something more rational and useful, like, “Trees are hard, I should learn how to turn.”

  4. Gerry, good point. And good analogy.

  5. http://

    What you wrote is half the truth. Happiness is also a teacher. Pain and happiness are two different sides of the same coin. Unless you conquer *BOTH* you won’t reach a state beyond these to feel nothing about either. That state is the ideal one called equanimity (sp?). Those who reached that state are desireless. They are not effected by either happiness or pain. If pain is an iron chain that holds you to something, happiness is a golden chain (albeit a chain) that holds you to something else. One gotta break free of these chains (iron and/or gold) ultimately. That’s my two cents.

    BTW you owe me $2.98 (hypothetical $3 minus my 2 cents above). Please pay electronically. I don’t accept checks anymore (read Lehman Brothers) 😉

  6. http://

    Pain has taught me a lot. I agree. However, my Dad always taught me to do my best to be observant and learn by others mistakes. And as I get older, I’m observing a whole lot more.

    Good RTLB

  7. Indian children and third world children are wise at an early age. They learn from nature itself for the most part. My theory is that when the coddled are removed from pain, they become complacent. Young adults go through life believing they cannot die or that nothing can hurt them. As adults people that have only been exposed to say, .5% pain in their lives and who were sheltured from pain, see life through rose colored glasses so to speak.
    Getting into my area of expertise: I should like to include the dog pack. The Alpha male and female dish out pain (0-10 on a scale) at the level of 10. Dogs kill, rip, tear and maim. With a correct amount of this scale in ones life, a living entity respects, honors and lives life with the most amount of awareness one can achieve living life as a warrior. Humans can balance this scale given enough time and/or they can be 'off' balance having too much or too little. Being too sheltured or too nurtured. Here is an example of what i mean. One kid grows up in a bad neighborhood and must learn the skills of body language and intuition or 'pain'. Another kid will never learn such skills and will walk through life in a more or less cloud of foolishness that he knows not.

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