March 2 marks the anniversary of the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as that whimsical wonder of a wordsmith, Dr. Seuss. And while his birthday has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day — a reading initiative created by the National Education Association — we'd like to honor the day with some life lessons for which we can thank the good doctor.
Consider the following.
1. Self-pity is an unnecessary indulgence
Be grateful you're not in the forest in France.
Where the average young person just hasn’t a chance,
To escape from the perilous pants eating plants.
But your pants are safe, you're a fortunate guy,
You ought to be shouting how lucky am I.
Some people are much more,
Oh, ever so much more,
Oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!
From "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" we learned to remember that there are people muchly much less fortunate than us; like, say, those who must live in fear of pants-eating plants! If we have food, water, clothing and shelter ... then lucky us! We should spend more time on gratitude and less time on feeling sorry for ourselves.
2. Be flexible … and appreciate the strange birds
You'll get mixed up, of course, as you already know,
You'll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step,
Step with care and great tact.
And remember that life's a great balancing act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft,
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
The last book Seuss published, "Oh, The Places You'll Go," may be most famous for what has become a perennial message to graduates: "Your mountain is waiting, So ... get on your way!" But rather than that snippet of encouragement, we learned more from the "life can be messy, you'll make mistakes, learn to navigate it" part.
Plus, strange birds!
3. Philosophy doesn't have to be hard
Today you are you,
That is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is youer than you.
When discussing René Descartes's "I think, therefore I am" assertion, philosophers can talk in convoluted circles so complicated you feel your head might spin right off your neck. Yet when Seuss tackles the topic in "Happy Birthday to You!," it makes us think: "ahhh, existence, self-awareness, I get it!"
Bonus lesson: Tossing out the rules of proper spelling and grammar can result in wonderfully expressive language.
4. Reading has its rewards
The more that you read, the more things you will know,
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
In "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!" we learned the profound truth that reading expands the mind, and consequently, life. As adults, we may already know this; but for a kid just entering the extraordinary adventure that reading is, the confirmation is completely validating.
5. It’s up to us to give a voice to the voiceless
I am the Lorax.
I speak for the trees,
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.
If a furry little creature-man with a giant golden mustache can go up against a greedy ornery Once-ler for the sake of the trees — as well as the Bar-ba-loots, Swomee-Swans and Humming-Fish who rely on them — so can we. After all, as we're reminded in "The Lorax," unless someone like you "cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
6. Quirkiness is next to godliness
Why fit in when you were born to stand out?
If there was anyone who best-served as an example of this simple nugget, it’s the author himself — and look where it got him: a remarkable legacy ... and 16 books on "Publishers Weekly's" list of "100 Top-Selling Hardcover Children's Books of All-Time."
7. The universe is profoundly mysterious
“You mean…” Horton gasped, “you have buildings there, too?”
“Oh, yes,” piped the voice. “We most certainly do.”
“I know,” called the voice, “I’m too small to be seen but I’m mayor of a town that is friendly and clean. Our buildings, to you, would seem terribly small but to us, who aren’t big, they are wonderfully tall.”
While the takeaway for most adults from "Horton Hears a Who" is about defending the little people and listening to your heart; for some of us, at a wee age too young to grasp the infinite nature of the universe, Horton had much more profound lessons to offer. Like: There could be a whole world in a speck of dust; within that world, there could be another world in an even tinier speck of dust; ad infinitum. And conversely, perhaps we are living in a speck of dust, and that speck of dust exists in another speck of dust, which exists in another … and so on. Because really, you’re never too young to be blown away by the utterly confounding thing that is the universe.
8. Being open-minded can be surprisingly wonderful
I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!
While few things may sound more revolting to a kid than green eggs, the unnamed narrator of "Green Eggs and Ham" was so surprised by his liking of them that it served as a lesson to us all to not knock something until we’ve tried it; it also gave many parents ample opportunities (for better or worse) for fun with green food coloring.
On "Saturday Night Live" shortly after Seuss' death in 1991, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson injected the "green eggs" lesson with a bit of minister’s fervor, which you can watch in the video below.