The First Rule in Life

November 2, 20230

By Thomas R Lester, MA, LPC

I remember as if it were yesterday, the warm late summer weather of 1987. For most of the entire month of august, we had been practicing two a day football drills, preparing for the upcoming season. The first day of my senior year was exciting; we all thought this was it, the end of school. I entered the classroom of Mr. James White, unaware that this class would be more valuable to me than any other I have had in my life. After the bell rang, class began. Mr. White was a tall bearded man who spoke eloquently, which was strange in the southern part of West Virginia. He introduced himself, stated that he would be tough, and that there was one rule we should remember. He walked to the board and wrote “life is not fair.”

This was a simple enough statement, one that was easy to remember, and short. He then handed out the books we were to use and began teaching. Every so often the rule would come up daily, when a student was late, did not turn in an assignment on time, or just felt they were being unjustly treated. He would explain to them as he did on the first day, that the assignments are posted, you will be given sufficient time, and that you are expected to be in class on time. Needless to say, the inevitable “that’s not fair!” would be uttered or whined. To which he replied, “Rule number one.”

This rule is in essence strange, since it implies that life will not be fair, yet it is the fairest rule I have ever heard. Even as an adult I have to constantly remind myself of the rule. When things go bad, when I am mistreated, or when I feel life is not being fair to me, rule number one is there to help me understand that things are as they are, and sometimes cannot be changed.

Months later the rule came into play in a big way. The 87-football team for Gilbert High School Lions in Gilbert West Virginia was an incredible team. That summer there was a song by the band Starship, called “It’s not over” based on the quote by Yogi Bera. The lyrics were inspiring, for a team like us. As the season went on, we would come from behind and win. We adopted it as our unofficial motto, “It’s not over till it’s over, and it’s not over till we get it right.”

We had lost one game and tied another. At the end of the season, we were gearing up for the state playoff games. Unknown to us, there were two teams we played who decided to not play each other due to consolidation. This cost us the point needed to go to the playoffs. We were devastated. This was the first time I had to apply the rule out of the classroom. As hard as it was, it was so true, “life is not fair.”

I not only learned this lesson, but I also learned you must do what you have to do in life. You cannot ignore a responsibility; you must complete all tasks. It is not a fair life, but it can be a just one. There have been times in my life where I have felt that life was not fair to me, in these times I remind myself of the first rule, and it is as true today as it was twenty years ago.  Once you understand this simple fact, the beautiful nugget of wisdom you are open to live a life of your own and take chances with this understanding.

Imagine how boring it would be if we never took chances.  If we never tried new things, never felt the thrill of the unknown, or the sheer pleasure of beating the odds.  To place yourself in a situation that seems to be uncomfortable, but overall helps to mature you as a person.  I remember watching an old martial arts movie, where the hero lost, he failed, and he was beaten, broken, and busted.  His teacher approached him with a warm smile.  The hero was confused as he stood there stripped bare, experiencing pain and defeat.  The instructor went on to explain “one victory is one lesson; one defeat is a thousand lessons learned.  Now you are probably asking yourself what this means, or as some of you have already figured out, it is one of the best lessons in life.

A lot of my work in the field of counseling was shaped and nurtured by three especially important instructors at Marshall University. Dr. Violet Eash helped guide my sense of need to help and protect those who were in need. She worked with the Handicapped population and was an advocate for the many handicapped assessable places in Huntington WV.

Dr. Donald Hall taught me the importance of structure and paying attention to detail. One of the proudest moment in my life was when I was going through his Approved License Professional Supervisor training for the state of West Virginia. Dr. Hall spoke and gave a little speech before handing out the certificates for the training. He complemented me on how far I had matured not just as a professional Counselor but as a person. He had no idea what that meant to me.

Finally, there was Dr. William McDowell, A close friend, mentor, advisor, and overall incredible human being. Through his guidance I learned to become the professional I am, to look at the true nature of any situation, and to see beyond what is presented.

After making the breakthrough of creating the light bulb, Thomas Edison was being interviewed by a reporter,  at one point the reporter asked why it took him so many times to make the light bulb, how did it feel to fail so much. Edison looked at him and said that he did not fail, he just learned many ways how not to make a light bulb.  If we succeeded at all things, we never learn, we remain in a constant state of being.  We become comfortable, complacent in our lot in life.  Many successful people have made many mistakes, rarely does beginners luck play into the situation.

The emotions elicited by defeat and mistake are sometimes painful and powerful.  You feel as though the world has ended, that trying is worthless, not worth the pain or trouble.   In “Batman begins”, Bruce Wayne’s father teaches his son a valuable lesson, he asks him “why do we fall?” Then answers so we can pick ourselves back up again.  How often have we given up because the falling is too hard, the landing to devastating, and that it is just more comfortable to just do nothing.   It is human nature to not want to experience emotional pain, yet it is part of what makes us, teaches us valuable lessons, and as you will see, in life all things have a reason for being.

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which I have been trained in, focuses on how that the being tries to better itself with its outcomes.  That the being uses different things to give what it perceives as positive outcomes.  It is a strange paradox, that negative behaviors are used by some people to gain what they perceive as a positive outcome.

You take a child who is not taught love and nurturing, who grew up on the streets, who steals to have food to eat, who fights for a place to sleep, this person may be living a dysfunctional life to the rest of us, but to him his outcomes are positive.  The outcome the being has was the outcome he needed, survival.  This is the kind of person who does not understand human kindness or sharing, his inward focus is preservation of the self. To him his outcomes are positive.

If you stop and think, you will see that every action we have in this life is the pursuit of an outcome. My dog learns tricks to get treats. His outcome is something to snack on. Our outcomes are not always positive, but each of us focus on what we feel is an outcome we desire. We often work within our lives to achieve these goals, so we must remember that there are some rules to life that must be remembered.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *