A Lesson Learned Too Well


"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

A person is taught a lesson and takes it to heart very well—too well, as it turns out. There are two variants (which by no means exclude the other):

  1. The person takes it to heart so well that the lesson is applied even to his or her own detriment (even the teacher may notice).
  2. The person applies the lesson to the teacher's detriment.

This trope can even go into Gone Horribly Right territory.

This can result from a few things:
  1. Accidental Aesop—there was An Aesop being taught, but the recipient learned the wrong one.
  2. The recipient learned the intended message, but it was the teachers who didn't think about the Aesop enough.
  3. The recipient disagrees with the Aesop and through its application, Shoots The Message.

See also Advice Backfire.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Irredeemable, one of the Plutonian's many foster parents teaches him not to use his powers for personal gain. As such, he never tells his foster father that his foster mother had cancer until it was far too late because it would have been a personal gain.
  • Spider-Man gets told as Peter Parker that "with great power comes great responsibility." Cue years later, where his family and friends never get any personal time, because he can't let go of his mission to protect the general public by stopping super-villains.
  • One Calvin and Hobbes has Calvin standing at the door shouting for his mother. When she tells him that he should come over and talk to her rather than shout, he thinks about it for a moment before walking across the living room and saying "I stepped in dog doo, where's the hose?"

    Fan Works 
  • In Fluttershy's Night Out, a teenaged (and very innocent, even by her own later standards) Fluttershy is seduced and abandoned by a smooth-talking stallion. One obvious moral? "Don't trust strangers." As we know from the series, a few years later when Twilight Sparkle meets her, Flutershy is terrified of strangers, and well on the way to becoming the Equestrian equivalent of a crazy cat lady.
  • In Harry's New Home, Snape tells Harry he should be careful and not trust Dumbledore because- good intentions or not- Dumbledore was responsible for Harry being placed in an abusive home. Harry takes his advice and starts to fear Dumbledore more than he does Voldemort, to Snape's horror.

    Films — Animated 
  • During the long voyage of the RLS Legacy in Disney's Treasure Planet, John Silver teaches young Jim Hawkins how to tie secure knots. After the film's climax, John Silver, intending to escape, ties a longboat in place with a slipknot. Jim Hawkins redoes the knot with a proper hitch, which would thwart Silver's escape. "I taught ye too well," Silver muses.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Green Hornet movie starts with young Britt Reid getting in a fight at school trying to defend a kid from bullies. His father angrily tells him that if he couldn't do it right he might as well not bother. A few years later, Britt is now a womanizing, aimless, parasitic party animal with no moral sense whatsoever. Way to go, Mr. Reid.
  • In one movie based on A Christmas Carol, after Scrooge opens his loan business, his old manager and teacher goes to get a loan from him, in order to get money to help his failing business. Ebeneezer tells his old manager that he taught him that "when a business is down, it stays down", and refused to give him a loan. The manager then remarks "I taught you too well".
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry throws back "I must not tell lies" at Umbridge when, captured by centaurs, she begs him to tell them she means them no harm.

  • Monstrous Regiment: Jackrum thinks he's convinced Blouse that a heroic frontal assault on the enemy fortress is not only suicide, but useless suicide (their squad is literally all that's left of their country's army). So Blouse goes to make a speech on how they will not be attacking the fortress (with Jackrum grinning all the while), but infiltrating it disguised as washerwomen (the grin disappears).
  • More nuanced Stranger Danger Aesops tend to be aware of this as a danger. The Berenstain Bears book about Stranger Danger had the entire later part of the plot being about Sister having learned the lesson too well.
  • One of the criticisms levelled at the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was that youths in churches that greatly vetted the book went from teens who didn't date to adults who didn't marry.
  • A Clockwork Orange has a program that makes violent offenders sick at the thought of committing violence, leaving them helpless against their attackers.
  • "Clever Hans"/"Prudent Hans" by The Brothers Grimm: Every time Hans gets something, he carries it home wrong, and his mother tells him how he should have done it. He then applies the lesson to the next thing he brings home. (For instance, he brings home a knife in his sleeve; his mother tells him he should have put it in his pocket; he brings home a goat in his pocket; his mother tells him he should have led it home by a string; he drags home a piece of bacon by a string; and so forth.)
  • In Mostly Harmless we meet an Alternate Universe version of Trillian who didn't go off with Zaphod because she had to go back for her bag, and has therefore made it her personal motto that "If there's one thing life's taught me, it's that you never go back for your bag". Then she fails an audition when she couldn't read the autocue because she left her contact lenses in her bag.
    As she dabbed each tiny plastic cup into her eyes she reflected that if there was one thing life had taught her it was that there are times when you do not go back for your bag and other times when you do. It had yet to teach her to distinguish between the two types of occasion.

    Live Action Television 
  • In the "Hold Back the Wind" sketch on The Benny Hill Show loosely spoofing Tennessee Williams, Benny is an older southern man whose catch phrase is "cut out the middle man! That's how I made my money, by cutting out the middle man!" Towards the end of the sketch he has a heart attack and tells his idiot son to call the doctor. The son comes in and says he called.
    Father: Did you call the doctor?
    Son: No, I called the undertaker.
    Father: The undertaker? What did you do that for?
    Son: I finally did like you said. I cut out the middle man!
    Father: That's my boy! (dies)
  • Once Upon a Time has Regina, who learns the hard way from her mother, Cora, (who expects her to marry up) that love makes her vulnerable, when Cora rips her boyfriend's heart in front of her and orders her to marry the king. She thinks that she made her daughter the perfect future queen, and afterwards, Regina tries not to be vulnerable because of her feelings. So she ends up trying to kill her mother because she doesn't want to have a weak spot when her Revenge starts.
    • Cora learned this one from Rumpelstiltskin, who took her in and taught her magic when she was a poor miller's daughter looking to get even with the haughty nobles who laughed at her. "Don't stop until they're on their knees," he said. Then, she double-crosses him when she gets the chance to become royalty and doesn't need him anymore, taking out her own heart to make sure she can't be blinded by any inconvenient empathy or feelings toward anyone, even her mentor or her daughter. Cora was a weapons-grade sociopath from the start.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985) had an episode called "To See The Invisible Man", (based on a short story by Robert Silverberg) which features a man sentenced to be "invisible" for failing to care about his fellow man. During his period of invisibility, no one is permitted to speak to him or interact with him in any way shape or form. After being released from his sentence, he spots another invisible on the street and she begs him not to ignore her. Despite his best efforts to follow the law, he turns to her and declares "You are not invisible! I see you!" He gives her a hug and continues to talk with her, even as a security robot tells him that what he is doing is a crime.
  • Doctor Who has this central to Series 9. In "The Girl Who Died", the Twelfth Doctor finally realizes why he has the face he does after Ashildr dies helping to defeat the Monster of the Week and he is lamenting his inability to change things and the inevitability of loss in his lives. He has the face of the patriarch of the family Donna Noble convinced his tenth self to save in "The Fires of Pompeii" even as he insisted he couldn't save anyone from that disaster, and he realizes his subconscious chose this when he regenerated into Twelve to remind him that he should always save others if there's a chance to do so — in fact, that saving people is his mission in life as The Doctor. Unfortunately, the only way he can save Ashildr has the side effect of making her immortal, and this paves the way to him being betrayed by her and captured and tortured by his own people and also the death of his beloved companion Clara, leading to a Season Finale in which he temporarily becomes a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who believes that honoring his "duty of care" to another is worth risking the space-time continuum.

    Video Games 
  • In StarCraft, Infested Kerrigan is told by Protoss general Tassadar that as long as she'll be predictable, she'll be her worst enemy. Later on, she tells another Protoss brass that the learned her lesson, and uses it against them.

  • As revealed in Flashback, when Durkon of The Order of the Stick was little, he tried to take the dishes from his mother to be helpful, and ended up dropping them. She explained to him that it's good to help people, but you should ask if they need help first. Early in his adventuring career with Roy, Roy got attacked by a monster and Durkon stood back, trying to find out if Roy wanted help, even though Roy wasn't really in a position where he could answer questions. Afterwards, Roy told him that in a situation like that, it's okay to just jump in.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent family history, personal history and a Had To Be Sharp environment has caused Lalli to be told in no uncertain words that he can't afford to make mistakes. Years later, it causes him to land on the wrong side of the Determinator trope when trying to fix a mistake he made while scouting a route on the expedition, which concretely means trying to fix it while half-asleep and putting himself in a Power-Strain Blackout in the process.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: Throughout "The Move," Gumball and Darwin repeatedly try to teach Clayton not to lie. This backfires when, after Clayton knocks out Tobias using the "Finger Touch Heart Disintegrator" move they believe he didn't know, he ultimately refuses to go along with their plan to frame Jamie for it, getting the two of them in even more trouble than he is.
  • In an episode of American Dad! Francine tries to get Stan to stand up to his boss and say "no", but the message doesn't click in until the end...when his boss has been critically wounded and he tells Stan to get him some help. Then Stan says "no" and refuses to get help, no matter how much Francine tells him that this time it's OK to do what he says.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, "Putting Your Hoof Down", Fluttershy takes an assertiveness seminar and ends up crossing the line to outright aggressive and ends up having a My God, What Have I Done? moment after she viciously insults Rarity and Pinkie and they run off crying. Luckily, by the end of the story, she shows that she has learned that one can learn to stop being a pushover without pushing others over.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In episode "Walking Small", Plankton teaches SpongeBob to be more assertive. SpongeBob takes the assertiveness lessons too far and becomes such a Jerkass that he drives everyone away from Goo Lagoon - which was Plankton's plan all along, so that he could bulldoze everything and build a larger Chum Bucket. SpongeBob then counters by being "aggressively nice" and bringing everyone back, foiling Plankton's plan.
    • In the episode "Mrs. Puff, You're Fired", Mrs. Puff is replaced by a Drill Sergeant Nasty who puts SpongeBob through Training from Hell, going so far as to force him to drive blindfolded. Due to the harsh drills and very specific teaching methods, SpongeBob can drive while blindfolded... and only while blindfolded.
  • Several episodes of Moral Orel have Orel taking what an authority figure says to its "logical conclusion" and doing something bizarre.
  • The South Park episode "Chickenpox" has Kyle stay over at Kenny's house and later ask his father why some people are so poor. Gerald (who just got in a fight with Kenny's father) explains that the world runs on a hierarchy of "gods and clods". Kyle later comes up with a plan to improve society by eliminating all the "clods" (Kyle's family is Jewish). This does cause Gerald to have a My God, What Have I Done? moment, however.
  • There's a Grossology episode where Abby and Ty help Lab Rat get over his germophobia, only for him to turn into The Pigpen at the end.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Old Man and the Lisa", Mr. Burns goes bankrupt and winds up in the retirement home. He turns to Lisa for help in rebuilding his empire, and she teaches him about recycling on the condition that he'd only do good, socially responsible things. Mr. Burns eventually manages to make a new business out of recycling, to the point where he makes a recycling plant where one of the main features is the Burns Omni-net, an animal catching device inspired by how fish could get caught in six-pack rings. He slaughters the captured animals into slurry, claiming, "It's made from 100% recycled animals!"
    • In "Kill Gill, Vol 1 & 2", Gill moves into the Simpsons' house where he lazes around and disrespects everything, but Marge can't say 'No' to him because the last time she did as a little girl, Patty and Selma stuffed her into her doll house for refusing to hide their cigarettes. Marge eventually reaches her Rage Breaking Point when Gill photoshops over the family's Christmas greeting card, but by then, Gill has gotten a new job and left, so Marge drives the family to the town he's working at to finally tell him 'No'. Unfortunately, this results in Gill losing the respect of his employees and getting fired by his boss, much to Marge's guilt.
  • A DuckTales (1987) episode has Scrooge impress on Huey, Dewey, and Louie the importance of making real money (he saw them running a lemonade stand and was dismayed at the feeble revenue it created). When he is transported into a Bad Future where Magica Despell is in charge of Duckburg and the boys are her partners, Scrooge sees the three have taken his lesson to heart too well, making piles of money in every cheating, crooked way possible. When he returns, he encourages the boys to make real money honestly.
  • In one episode of Chowder, when Chowder's obsession with thrice cream interferes with the catering company, Mung Daal decides to teach him a lesson by giving him a thrice cream man who would feed him thrice cream until Chowder was sick of it. Unfortunately, it worked too well as when the thrice cream man went berserk over being rejected and filled the kitchen with thrice cream, Chowder was unwilling to eat the stuff, resulting in Mung and Schnitzel eating it until they got brain freeze.

    Real Life 
  • The Marxist intellectual Theodor Adorno (of the Frankfurt school) agitated during the years around 1968 and repeatedly told his followers - mostly German students - to criticize everyone and everything and trust no authorities. (Ironically, by this way he became kind of an authority himself.) And then, some guy discovered that in 1934 Adorno had written a text in an official newspaper of the Hitler Youth and spoken well about HY leader von Schirach, and Goebbels. This led to lot of protests against Adorno, and some people claim it helped cause his death shortly after in 1969.