LIFE 101
Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life In School -- But Didn't


A problem is a chance
for you to do your best.


Your Master Teacher--as wonderful as your Master Teacher is--is not the only Master Teacher in your life. Far from it.

Most people think Master Teachers are only "in the skies." Not so. They're here, there, and everywhere. Why don't we recognize them as such? Because they are also masters of disguise.

How do they disguise themselves? Only as some of the most potentially powerful learning tools in our lives: mistakes, guilt and resentment, fear, pain and disease, stubbornness, addictions, depression, death, emergencies--all the things most people would, if they could, eliminate.

Some try awfully hard to eliminate them, too. Ever notice the themes of many bestselling self-help books? How to get rid of this Master Teacher, how to dispose of that Master Teacher, 101 ways to eradicate some other Master Teacher.

Why would we not take advantage of potential sources of wisdom in our lives? Maybe we forgot that they are teachers--or maybe nobody ever explained it to us.

Shall I crack any
of those old jokes, master,
At which the audience
never fail to laugh?

405 B.C.

Let's pretend your Master Teachers sent me here to explain what they have to offer you and what great friends they are. That way maybe you'll use them and stop giving them such a bad name. Consider me the goodwill ambassador for Master Teachers in Disguise Guild.

There is a funny scene from the musical Showboat. Two mountain men, who have never seen a play, stumble into the showboat theater, unaware that the actors are acting in a play. They converse with the heroine and encourage the hero. When the villain arrives, they chase him off the stage with six-guns. The mountaineers are proud of themselves for having done "the right thing."

The irony in this, of course, is that the audience, watching Showboat, forgets the men playing the mountaineers are actors, too. The audience laughs at the naivet of people mistaking play-acting for real-life. In order to appreciate the humor, however, the audience watching Showboat must be lost in the illusion themselves.

That's how the Master Teachers get away with the disguise: we forget they are sources of wisdom--and seldom are we interested in remembering again. If someone stood up during a performance of Showboat and began yelling, "Those aren't mountain men! Those are actors! Those aren't real guns! Those are props!" the person would be ushered from the theater.

The Master Teachers need the same illusion to teach as well as they do. The more we believe the characters in a movie (and forget they're really actors), the more moving the movie can be. Thus, the more we believe the Master's disguise, the more powerful and complete the lesson.

So why am I spilling the beans?

If you're struggling too much with the teacher, you might not stand back and learn the lesson. The techniques in this section of the book allow you to take that step back. You can learn from past Master Teaching sessions--all that you might have considered the doom and gloom of your past. You can also use the techniques to learn more quickly the ongoing lessons being taught by your Master Teachers.

Good behavior
is the last refuge
of mediocrity.


But by exposing the Master Teachers (the "villains" of the piece) as the wonderful, kindly, loving friends they are, am I not risking the effectiveness of future lessons?

Not likely.

You'll forget all this.

You're obviously suffering
from delusions of adequacy.



Experience is the name
everyone gives
to their mistakes.


One of the least disguised of the Master Teachers in Disguise is mistakes. Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs improving. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had to work on?

This process seems an invaluable aid to learning, and yet many people avoid situations in which they might make mistakes. Many people also deny or defend the mistakes they've made--or may be making.

There is a story told of Edison, who made, say, 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before arriving at the lightbulb. "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" a reporter asked. "I didn't fail 1,000 times," Edison replied. "The lightbulb was an invention with 1,001 steps."

Why don't most of us see our own lives in this way? I think it goes back to unworthiness. We assume a faade of perfection in a futile attempt to prove our worthiness. "An unworthy person couldn't be this perfect," the faade maintains. Alas, being human, we make mistakes. Mistakes crack the faade. As the faade crumbles, a frantic attempt is made to hide the hideous thing (unworthiness) the faade was designed to hide--from ourselves as much as from others.

If we didn't play this game of denial with ourselves, we would make mistakes, admit them freely, and ask not, "Who's to blame?" or "How can I hide this?" but "What's the lesson here? How can I do this better?"

The goal becomes excellence, not perfection.

Aim for success,
not perfection.
Never give up your right to be wrong,
because then you will lose
the ability to learn new things
and move forward with your life.
Remember that fear
always lurks behind perfectionism.
Confronting your fears and allowing yourself
the right to be human can,
make you a far happier and
more productive person.


It helps to realize that we're far from perfect--we are, in fact, crazy. I first realized I was crazy when I was fifteen. I was in the shower brushing my teeth. As was my custom, I spit the toothpaste-gook on the shower floor. By some strange suspension of the law of physics, however, the gook landed on my foot.

"Eeeuuuuuu!" I recoiled. The thought of toothpaste-gook on my foot was too disgusting to even consider.

And then, from wherever those occasional sane thoughts come, came the thought, "Less than one second before the gook landed on your foot, it was in your mouth."

At that moment, I knew I was crazy.

Life has never been the same.

One of the best examples of how strong the taboo against making a mistake has become is the use of the word sin. In ancient Roman times, sin was a term used in archery. It meant simply to miss the mark. At target practice, each shot was either a hit or a sin. If you sinned, you made corrections and tried again.

Today, of course, sin means, to quote the American Heritage, "A condition of estrangement from God as a result of breaking God's law." Whew. No wonder people try to avoid even "the near occasion" of sin. Some people treat mistakes with the same reverence.

Mistakes are valuable if, for no other reason, they show us what not to do. As Joseph Ray told us, "The Athenians, alarmed at the internal decay of their Republic, asked Demosthenes what to do. His reply: `Do not do what you are doing now.' "

In Hollywood, mis-takes are common. ("That was wonderful, darlings. Now let's get ready for take two.") Give yourself as many re-takes as you need. Stars do it. ("I didn't feel quite right with that one, Mr. deMille. Can we take it again?") Why not you?

A Hollywood song (lyrics by Dorothy Fields) sums it up: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again." Or, to quote an African proverb, "Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped."

Mistakes are
the portals of discovery.


If you're learning, growing, and trying new things--expect mistakes. They're a natural part of the learning process. In fact, someone once said, "If you're not making at least fifty mistakes a day, you're not trying hard enough." What the person meant, I think, is that growth, discovery, and expansion have mistakes built into them.

To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.

The best things and best people
rise out of their separateness.
I'm against a homogenized society
because I want the cream to rise.


The Two Faces of Anger: Guilt and Resentment

I hate quotations.


Guilt is anger directed at ourselves--at what we did or did not do. Resentment is anger directed at others--at what they did or did not do.

The process of guilt and resentment is the same:

  1. We have an image that either we or others should live up to. (An image of all the should's, must's, have-to's, and demands we learned or created about our own and/or others' behavior.)
  2. We emotionally demand that we or others live up to this image.
  3. We or they fail to live up to our image.
  4. We judge the "contrary action" as wrong, bad, evil, wicked, etc.
  5. We become emotionally upset--bitter, alienated, hurt, hostile, belligerent, combative, contentious, quarrelsome, vicious, touchy, cranky, cross, grouchy, testy, enraged, aggravated, annoyed, furious, teed-off, etc., etc. We'll put them all under the general umbrella of "angry."
  6. We assign blame for the emotional upset--either we did it or they did it. (The judge pronounces sentence.)
  7. The swift execution of justice. If we are to blame, we direct the anger toward ourselves, feeling regret, remorse, shame, repentance, culpability, fault--we'll call all that guilt. If the transgressor of our expectations was someone or something other than ourselves, we call our anger spite, jealousy, suspicion, malice, begrudging, covetousness, envy, indignation--all of which we'll call resentment. The sad fact is that, whether we blame us or them, we feel the hurt. But that is not considered, at least for long.
  8. All of this continues for the prescribed length of time and intensity. No reprieves, no appeals--possible time off for very good behavior.

Every great mistake has
a halfway moment,
a split second when it
can be recalled and
perhaps remedied.


If these are the two faces of anger, what's the good in that? Frankly, not much. So why do I have anger in a section on Master Teachers? If we had listened to the voices of the Master Teachers at the very beginning, the feelings of guilt and resentment would not have been necessary. To save us from these is the job of the Master Teacher, anger.

Anger begins as an inner twinge. We sense something long before it blossoms (explodes?) into an emotional tirade. If we listen to this twinge--and follow its advice--the emotional outburst (or inburst) is not needed.

What advice is this Master Teacher giving? Stop, look, and change.

Stop. Don't do anything. You are at a choice point. You have two ways to go. One choice equals freedom. The other choice equals misery--familiar misery, but misery nonetheless.

Look. What image (expectation, belief, should, must, ought-to) about either yourself or another is about to be (or has recently been) violated? ("People should drive carefully." "I mustn't eat cake if I'm on a diet.")

Change. What do you change? The image. Your image is not accurate--according to hard, cold, physical evidence. People should drive carefully, but do they always? Hardly. That "should" is inaccurate, false, erroneous, wrong. People on diets mustn't eat cake, but do they? You bet. That "mustn't" is untrue, faulty, mistaken, and incorrect. Based on the actual life-data given to you, your images (should's, must's, have-to's) are all wet (or don't hold any water, or sink in the ocean of truth, or any other aquatic metaphor you choose).

Everything that irritates us
about others can lead us to
an understanding
of ourselves.


But what do we often do with the image that is proven--conclusively--to be inaccurate? Do we disregard it? Do we intelligently alter it, based on reality? ("People should drive carefully, and sometimes they don't." "People on diets shouldn't eat too much cake too often.") No. We make ourselves miserable with the inaccurate image. The world's actions do not conform to our beliefs. Woe is us. Our own actions don't conform to our beliefs. Woe on us.

Can you see the absurdity of this? We demand that our illusion (our image) be more real than reality (what actually happened), hurting ourselves in the process. Where is the victory in that? (I bet you thought that was a rhetorical question. It's not. There are answers.)

First, we get to feel right. Feeling right is a strong drug. Some people sacrifice a lot to be right. Ever hear the expression "dead right"? The question the Master Teacher asks with each initial twinge of guilt or resentment: Would you rather be right or be happy? If we answer "Happy," we are free. If we answer "Right," the cycle of misery begins again. If we're right we must punish--either ourselves or another. As I mentioned, the irony is that when we punish another, we first punish ourselves. Who do you think feels all that hate we have for another? The other person? Seldom. Us? Always.

Second, anger is a habit. We learned it early on--before we could walk or talk, in some instances. The habit is so ingrained in some people that they haven't understood a word of this chapter. "What is he talking about? When people do something wrong, I will naturally feel upset. When I do something bad, I will of course feel guilty." It's not "natural," it's not "of course"; it's learned. If our early lessons of acceptance were as successful as our early lessons of anger, how much happier we would all be.

The last temptation is
the greatest treason:
To do the right deed
for the wrong reason.


Third, guilt and resentment give us (and others) permission to do it again. Far from preventing a recurrence, the punishment simply lets the person (either you or another) say, "I've paid my dues; now I'm free to do it again." Many people weigh the guilt they will feel against the pleasure of the forbidden action they want to take. As long as they're willing to "pay the price," the action's okay. People often ponder the anticipated wrath of another before taking certain actions. "If I'm five minutes late, he'll be a little mad." They make a choice between another's resentment and whatever it is that might make them five minutes late. If they're willing to endure the chastisement, they reason, it's okay to be late. Guilt and resentment, then, far from preventing "evil,"* perpetuate it. *"EVIL" is "LIVE" spelled backwards.

What if we use the twinge of guilt to change the action? What if we feel the guilt and don't eat the cake? Isn't this using the Master Teacher's message for our good?

Well, it's a good start. If we don't do something because we're afraid of the guilt, we are, in fact, being motivated by fear and guilt. If we do good because we fear what might happen to us if we don't do good, the act of good is tainted with fear. As a transition--especially when breaking a habit--it's a beginning, but we must move beyond that or we find ourselves in the trap of not feeling guilty because we'd feel guilty if we felt guilty.

So what can we use to motivate ourselves to do good? Do good because good is the right thing to do. Not right as "conforming to law and morality (or else)," but right as "in accordance with fact, reason, and truth."

Another great motivator is love. Love yourself enough to stay on the diet because you love your body and want to keep it healthy.

More on this and other positive motivators later, along with the cure for guilt and resentment.

The cure for guilt and resentment? Forgiveness. The preventative? Acceptance. The best reason to do good? Loving.

And if you forget any of this, the Master Teacher will be there, just before you veer off-course, asking gently, with that first twinge of guilt or resentment, "Would you rather be right or be happy?"

Your answer will always be respected.

It is easier
to get forgiveness
than permission.


The most important thing
is to be whatever you are
without shame.



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