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A Lesson Learned Too Well

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"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. No Matter How Much I Beg plots always feature this one.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Doctor Slump chapter "Citizen Arale" starts with Midori telling her class to "bring a lost item to the police" as part of her lesson on "how to be good citizens". It ends up Gone Horribly Right, as Arale spends the whole episode taking everything she considers "lost" to the police station, starting with a book Midori drops, and it only escalates from there. By the time the chapter ends, she has brought to the police loads of poop she finds on the roadside, plus every car, house, and mountain she sees and takes to the police (Arale is able to move all those things without trouble due to the Super Strength she possesses as a Robot Girl), making the police station and its surrounding area look like a junkyard as a result.
  • In One Piece, the chivalrous "Red Leg" Zeff passed on his firm belief in never striking women to his protege, Sanji. Presumably, he only intended for Sanji to not use his fighting skills to abuse women; instead, Sanji adheres to Zeff's code so zealously that he has refused to fight back against powerful Action Girls to the extent that, on several occasions, he has survived only due to sheer luck. Even Nami, Sanji's female crew-mate, has declared Sanji's intentions admirable but his execution idiotic.
  • Trigun eventually discusses this with Vash's pacifism, a result of Rem Saverem teaching Vash that all life is precious. While it's a highly admirable thing that Vash has kept his moral code after living several decades in the Crapsack World that is Planet Gunsmoke, the moment that Vash's Omnicidal Maniac brother Knives and his psychotic followers the Gung-Ho Guns pop up and start causing massive amounts of death and destruction just to make Vash suffer (and even their own lives are fair game) Vash's companions take a little while to ponder if preventing the loss of so much human life wasn't a good enough reason for Vash to, you know, put a bullet in the Gung-Ho Guns' heads the moment he got a clear shot.
  • As revealed in her backstory, Homura from EDENS ZERO used to be a Shrinking Violet who struggled to so much as introduce herself to others as a child until her teacher encouraged her to use her words more. Just as her teacher meant, she became the more confident and outspoken person she is in the present—but she also took to vocalizing absolutely every thought that crosses her mind, making an effort to keep her own mouth shut.

    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.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Calvin and Hobbes strip 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?"
    Bill Watterson: (In the anniversary collection) Right lesson, wrong time.

    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, Fluttershy 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.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Sabrina's father teaches her that nobody can improve unless they push themselves. Not a bad lesson, and she takes it to heart. Unfortunately, after an argument with her dad, she decides to make the people of Turquoise Town improve themselves by giving them motivation. Her chosen motivation? Fear. So she starts terrorizing the townsfolk, hoping that somebody would be motivated to stand up to her.
  • With This Ring: Played for Laughs but Firebrand failing to get through Paul's obliviousness taught her that she needs to be more overt when courting someone. So once she realizes that Marie Logan reciprocates her interest, she comes on to Marie. Naked.
  • Us and Them: After trying to peek on his older sister Remi while she's changing and Aeris giving him a lecture on the need for privacy, Raz refuses to let his brother Sam into the bathroom while he's taking a bath, even though Sam's having a Potty Emergency. Eventually, Sephiroth convinces him to unlock the door then hide under the bath bubble until Sam's done.
  • When Goh goes through a Nightmare Sequence in Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail, he is advised by a dream construct named Zeno to learn his lesson about how his obsession with Mew has lead to him losing his bonds with everyone he was ever friends with — Chloe, Tokio, Ash and Raboot — by showing him scenarios where he got what he wanted (where Chloe never left the Train and she was stuck as she was) and scenarios where things changed (where all he had to do was be a little more empathetic). Good news? This works and he's realized how bad he's been. Bad news? He becomes too broken to even try to fix his relationship problems and instead ends up in a suicide ward.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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 refuses 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.
    • It happens again in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when he and Hermione infiltrate the new Voldemort-aligned Ministry of Magic, where Umbridge is persecuting Muggle-born wizards in a Kangaroo Court. Harry says "You're lying, Dolores, and you must not tell lies." before stunning her and making off with the Horcrux they came to steal.

  • 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 leveled 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.
  • One short story in a Disney story collection, based on The Lion King (1994), had Nala confiding in Simba that she was afraid of mice. Simba accidentally told this to Mufasa, and Nala felt hurt by it, so Simba promised to keep secrets from then on. However, Nala then told Simba she was secretly going to explore a cave and didn't return, but Simba refused to tell the adults where she was because of his promise to keep his secrets. He eventually relented in time to save Nala.

    Live-Action TV 
  • It's About Time: In "To Sign or Not to Sign", Captain Mackenzie and Lieutenant Canfield teach Gronk and Shad how to sign their names. The two end up signing up for a large variety of goods and services sold by door-to-door salespeople.
  • I Dream of Jeannie: In "Never Put a Genie on the Budget", Jeannie, not understanding modern credit, buys $2000.00 worth of goods. Major Nelson insists she go on a strict budget. She overdoes it, taking in hippies as boarders and splitting a T.V. dinner for supper. Things go south as Major Nelson is expected to entertain a visiting Russian Cosmonaut.
  • 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:
    • Regina 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 out 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): In "To See the Invisible Man", the state sentences Mitchell Chaplin to a year of invisibility for the crime of coldness because he is not emotionally open with his family or co-workers. Mitchell initially relishes the opportunity to do anything that he wants with no repercussions as everyone must ignore him or face the same punishment themselves. However, the incredible loneliness eventually gets to him and he longs for ordinary human interaction. Six months into his sentence, he begs an invisible woman to talk to him but she refuses as she does not want her own sentence to be increased. Four months after his punishment has ended, the same woman approaches Mitchell and pleads with him to acknowledge her existence and ease her suffering. While Mitchell is initially reluctant, he soon hugs the woman and assures her that she is not invisible and that he cares about her. His own experience of invisibility taught him how difficult it is and led him to comfort another person in pain instead of ignoring her.
  • 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.
  • In season 5 of The Wire, Michael is taught by Chris to "get there early" and scope out the scene before pulling off a job so he doesn't get caught off guard. When Marlo's crew is being locked up and it's thought it was because Michael snitched, Michael is sent on a job with Snoop to hit somebody. This is a ruse to really kill Michael. However, he gets there early and sees Snoop acting really friendly with the guy they're supposed to hit. This causes him to sniff out the plan and get the drop on Snoop. He quote's Chris's advice shortly before killing her.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the lore of Battletech, The Clans settled a cluster of planets that were inhospitable to life and extremely resource-poor: As a result, they designed their society entirely around maximum efficiency and minimal waste. This included all forms of warfare and conflict, which essentially became a system of Combat by Champion backed by a Proud Warrior Race Guy Code of Honor that minimized the amount of personnel and materiel needed to solve a conflict and bound all participants to the outcome no matter their feelings on the matter. While this system allowed Clan society to thrive for centuries, it proved fatal when they attempted to invade the Inner Sphere: While inferior in technology and skill, the Inner Sphere could afford to think beyond the scope of individual battles and eventually ground The Clans to a halt on the operational level.

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

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • King of the Hill: Defied. In "Rich Hank, Poor Hank", Bobby mistakenly thinks that his father is rich, wastes a lot of money with an emergency credit card, and works hard at his punishment and adopting Hank's attitude towards the value of a hard day's work and an honest dollar. At first, Hank is happy and proud of Bobby. Then they try to sell the nonrefundable jet ski to a rich father buying it for his spoiled son Eric, and Hank becomes uncomfortable that Bobby is so eager to please Eric, who treats him like garbage. This prompts Hank to decide they'll hold off on selling the jetski for a year and enjoy it in the meantime.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: In the 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 the 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.
    • In "Born Again Krabs", Mr. Krabs suffers a near-death experience and is warned by the Flying Dutchman to change his money-grubbing ways. Believing he's just dreaming, Krabs takes this lesson to heart and becomes overly generous to his customers to the point of not charging them for anything. This leads to the Krusty Krab facing bankruptcy and Mr. Krabs returning to his greedy ways to recoup his losses.
  • 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 "Moaning Lisa", Marge takes a moment before she drops off Lisa at school to give Lisa a tip in how to handle her depression by repeating a lesson her own mother gave to her: be a Stepford Smiler and shove it all deep inside. Lisa instead becomes an Extreme Doormat who allows people to step on her and accepts making their homework with a smile on her face. Marge however defies this after a few seconds of seeing how Lisa is gonna take her lesson by pulling her back into the car and telling her that it's okay for Lisa to act however she feels like and Marge will support her every step of the way.
    • In "The Old Man and the Lisa", Mr. Burns goes bankrupt, Lisa helps him rebuild his empire, on the condition that he do responsible things, like recycling. Mr. Burns ends up creating a device that completely strips the marine ecosystem to create a new product. "It's made from 100% recycled animals!"
    • In "Kill Gill, Vol 1 & 2", Gil 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 dollhouse for refusing to hide their cigarettes. Marge eventually reaches her Rage Breaking Point when Gil photoshops over the family's Christmas greeting card, but by then, Gil has gotten a new job and left, so Marge drives the family to the town he's working at (in Texas) to finally tell him 'No'. Unfortunately, the way she goes around doing that (storming into Gil's workplace (a real estate business) during office hours and screaming it to Gil's face) results in Gil losing the respect of his employees and getting fired by his boss, much to Marge's guilt.
  • The DuckTales (1987) episode "Duck to the Future" has Scrooge impress on Huey, Dewey, and Louie the importance of making real money after he saw them running a lemonade stand and was dismayed at the feeble revenue it created. When Scrooge 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 as Corrupt Corporate Executives. This is really bad for Scrooge, who prides himself in the fact that he was tougher than the toughies, smarter than the smarties, and made his money square. When Scrooge returns to his own time, he encourages the boys to make 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.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: In "Legends of Mr. Gar", Enid recalls on her first day working at the bodega, Mr. Gar helped her deal with a pushy Unsatisfiable Customer and taught her not to worry too much about what the customer thinks, which seems to be part of the reason she became such an Apathetic Clerk.
    Enid: And that's pretty much why Mr. Gar is so great. He helped me be myself, without any regard of empathy for my fellow man.
  • Rugrats:
    • In "Naked Tommy", Tommy decides to take off his clothes when he sees how much fun his dog, Spike has not wearing them, and entices his friends to do the same, much to the ire of both Stu and Chuckie. At the end of the episode, Tommy learns how important clothing is and decides not to take his clothes off again, not even when he takes a bath.
    • In "Mr. Clean", Chas means well when he tries to teach Chuckie about germs after catching him playing in various dirty places, such as in the garbage can, under his bed, and in a mud puddle. However, the excessive baths and Chuckie's worried nature lead to Chuckie having a nightmare where the germs come to life and attack him, resulting in Chuckie becoming Terrified of Germs, donning a germ-proof suit, and trying to keep his friends from playing in dirty places.
  • In the Thomas & Friends episode, "Saving Time", Samson tries to save time by pulling twice as many trucks of stone. The strain is too much for him to handle, and even with help from Thomas and Paxton, he ends up at Brendam Docks very late and gets scolded by the Fat Controller for keeping Thomas from doing his job. At the end of the episode, Samson apologizes to Thomas and decides to pull a shorter train this time around, this one consisting of only one stone truck.

    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 becoming 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. Presumably he ceased to feel the same way shortly after writing said article, but mob mentality took over and led to a lot of protests against Adorno, with some people even claiming they helped cause his death shortly after in 1969.


Video Example(s):


Cleopatra in Space

Cleo and Brian want their friend Akila to be more firm and to learn to say no, but by the end of the episode it's literally all she can say.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ALessonLearnedTooWell

Media sources:

Main / ALessonLearnedTooWell