- Experience teaches how to live.
- We learn by experience, (a) Young people, (b) and older people.
- It is we who make the lessons of experience pleasant or unpleasant.
Experience, as everybody knows, is the best teacher. Its main aim is to teach us how to live. No one can teach us this as well as it can. It is stern schoolmistress. It sets us hard lessons, punishes severely who are inattentive and stupid, and charges very high fees. But what it teaches, it teaches in a way as through as possible. We never forget its lessons. The worst of it is that we sometimes learn its lessons too late. The man who breaks all the rules of health in his youth by self-indulgence and vice, learns at last, when his health is wrecked for life, the right way of living; but too late to be of any use to him.
It may be that we should be glad to learn how to live well from the experience of our fathers, as recorded in books, or as taught by the advice of our elders. But somehow many young people do not. They scoff at warnings and advice, and go their own way. You may warn a child against playing with matches; but he does not believe you, until he scorches his hands. After the “burnt child dreads the fire”. You tell a boy not to meddle with stray dogs; but he turns a deaf ear till he gets a nasty bite from one. After that “once bitten, twice shy”. He has to learn from experience; and its lessons he is not apt to forget.
In the same way older people have to learn for themselves, often by bitter experience, such old truths as, “honesty is the best policy”, All is not gold that glitters”, “A rolling stone gathers no moss”, “He who touches pitch is defiled”, “No pains, no gains”, “Waste not, want not”, “Cut your coat according to your cloth”, “A fool and his money are soon parted”, “Look before you leap”, and “The way of transgressors is hard”. In such old proverbs much wisdom gained by experience has been stored. It is by suffering we learn patience; by facing danger we learn courage; by sorrow we learn sympathy, by mistakes we learn wisdom.
But all its lessons are not unpleasant. Whether they are pleasant or unpleasant depends on ourselves. For we can just as easily learn from experience that honesty pays in the long run, as that dishonesty does not; that temperance maintains health, as that excess selfishness breeds unhappiness; and that hard work brings success, as that idleness means failure.
In short, experience shapes us what we are. It is on what our success in life depends.