Avatar: The Last Airbender was an iconic show that premiered in 2005 on Nickelodeon. Its timeless teachings have helped the series stay relevant all these years and gather a wholesome cult-like following. Fans of the show have repeatedly voiced their love for the show’s ability to both entertain and teach. Here are some of those valuable teachings:
“We can’t concern ourselves with what was. We must act on what is.”
Monk Gyatso in Book 1, Episode 3 “The Southern Air Temple”
Early on in the series, Aang recalls his former teacher giving him this piece of advice when he was first told of his status as the Avatar. As Aang struggles with the depressing reality of being the last surviving airbender, Monk Gyatso appears to him in a memory and his words urge Aang to not be overwhelmed with all that has happened between then and now. His words encourage Aang, and viewers, to remember that the past is in the past, and that all we have left is the future. There is no use in trying to change things that have already happened, we can only strive to change what will happen next.
“There is nothing wrong with letting the people who love you help you.”
Iroh in Book 2, Episode 8 “The Chase”
This lesson is personal for Iroh as he is a loving person who is always offering help. He loves his nephew, Prince Zuko, and only wants to offer support and assistance. In the beginning of the series, we learn that Iroh is going to great lengths to help Zuko in his task of hunting down the Avatar, even when it goes against his own personal beliefs. He chooses to follow his nephew into exile and offers guidance and acceptance at every opportunity. In this way Iroh teaches us through a new perspective: instead of closing yourself off and refusing to accept help to appear strong, consider finding strength in the fact that there are people willing to help you shoulder your burdens.
“It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others… will help you become whole.”
Uncle Iroh in Book 2, Episode 9 “Bitter Work”
Yet again, Iroh speaks words of wisdom. He illustrates an analogy about the four nations needing to learn from each other. The Fire Nation knows all about power, but they need to learn persistence and endurance from the Earth Kingdom, freedom and peace from the Air Nomads, and a sense of community from the Water Tribes. This reminds us of our own need to become worldly and appreciate other cultures. Iroh’s advice on diversifying your worldview and appreciating different ways of life can help you understand more about yourself as you open your mind to new teachings. Iroh insists that this understanding of others is what makes the Avatar so special. In his words, “It is the combination of the four elements in one person that makes the Avatar so powerful, but it can make you more powerful too.” If we embrace these words and value people who are unlike ourselves we can all become just a little bit closer to being the Avatar.
“I thought I had lost my honor, and that somehow someone could return it to me. But I know now that no one can give you your honor. It’s something you earn for yourself by choosing to do what’s right.”
Zuko in Book 3, Episode 11 “The Western Air Temple”
Throughout his character arc, Zuko has always struggled with his honor. He was desperate to regain it after being rejected and shunned by his father, but was sent on an endless goosechase instead of being forgiven. He learns that honor does not mean pleasing his abusive family, but instead means being an honorable person and always striving to do the right thing. This is why he chooses to join the Avatar’s group and teach him firebending, and in his plea to be accepted by them, Zuko forces viewers to empathize with his longing for a purpose. He simply wants to be surrounded by people who would help him do good and would allow him to become a better person – one who doesn’t hurt the people he loves. Zuko’s change in allegiance from the Fire Nation to the Avatar’s group of friends teaches us that we are in control of our own paths and able to influence the type of people we become.
“The true mind can weather all lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. From beginningless time, darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light.”
Ancient Lion Turtle in Book 3, Episode 16 “Sozin’s Comet”
A Lion Turtle is an ancient fictional creature, one that is wise and knowing in its realm, so when Aang encounters one in the finale it’s no surprise that he learns from it. Aang asks it about an ethical dilemma he’s having– one that may prevent him from winning in his battle against Fire Lord Ozai. He is expected to kill his opponent in order to win. However, Aang is a monk and is uncomfortable with the idea of ending a life. He doesn’t believe in violence and he’s experienced overwhelming devistation from the genocide of his people, so he is unwilling to contribute to more killing in the world. The Lion Turtle assists Aang by teaching him a lesson about having faith in himself and in the light. It reminds us that we do not need to give into hate and cruelty, even when it seems hopeless. Like Aang, we should search for alternatives that use nonviolence and forgiveness to solve our problems. Allowing our actions to be guided by our good intentions rather than bad ones will help us become better people.