Roy Exum: What Have I Learned?

Friday, November 20, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

For a number of years one of my favorite essays of all time has been, “What I Have Learned.” For quite nearly 20 years it has always been attributed to the late Andy Rooney, America’s most fabled “curmudgeonly commentator.” From 1978 to November of 2011, Rooney closed every Sunday’s broadcast of the CBS news hour, “60 Minutes” with his legendary “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.” So, let me start by revealing Rooney never wrote this, though well he most certainly could have.

Actually, the truth-sniffers at, a valuable website that presents itself as “the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource,” tracked this story’s origin back to an obscure book published in 1995 entitled, “Live and Learn and Pass it On – Vol.

II” Better yet, it was written by a collection of people of all ages who each submitted just one thing they had learned about life. Rather than a story, this a list containing the best answers that were submitted a quarter-century ago yet still ring true today.

In recent weeks, “What I Have Learned” has been recycled on the Internet in connection with “National Friendship Week,” which was Nov. 9-15 this year:

* * *


I’ve learned… That the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.

I’ve learned… That when you’re in love, it shows.

I’ve learned… That just one person saying to me, ‘You’ve made my day!’ makes my day.

I’ve learned… That having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world.

I’ve learned… That being kind is more important than being right.

I’ve learned… That you should never say no to a gift from a child.

I’ve learned… That I can always pray for someone when I don’t have the strength to help him in some other way.

I’ve learned… That no matter how serious your life requires you to be, everyone needs a friend to act goofy with.

I’ve learned… That sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold, and a heart to understand.

I’ve learned… That simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.

I’ve learned… That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

I’ve learned… That we should be glad God doesn’t give us everything we ask for.

I’ve learned… That money doesn’t buy class.

I’ve learned… That it’s those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.

I’ve learned… That under everyone’s hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

I’ve learned… That to ignore the facts does not change the facts.

I’ve learned… That when you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you.

I’ve learned… That love, not time, heals all wounds.

I’ve learned… That the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.

I’ve learned… That everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile.

I’ve learned… That no one is perfect until you fall in love with them.

I’ve learned… That life is tough, but I’m tougher.

I’ve learned… That opportunities are never lost; someone will take the ones you miss.

I’ve learned… That when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.

I’ve learned… That I wish I could have told my Mom that I love her one more time before she passed away.

I’ve learned… That one should keep his words both soft and tender, because tomorrow he may have to eat them.

I’ve learned… That a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

I’ve learned… That when your newly born grandchild holds your little finger in his little fist, that you’re hooked for life.

I’ve learned… That everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.

I’ve learned… That the less time I have to work with, the more things I get done.

 * * *


In late October of 2011, Andy Rooney, at age 92, did his final taping of “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” and he died within a month afterwards. At the time of his death, editors at CNN collected some of his most quotable lines:

* -- “I try to look nice. I comb my hair, I tie my tie, I put on a jacket, but I draw the line when it comes to trimming my eyebrows. You work with what you got.” – from an essay on his eyebrows, Nov. 24, 1996

* -- “We need people who can actually do things. We have too many bosses and too few workers. More college graduates ought to become plumbers or electricians, then go home at night and read Shakespeare.” – from an essay on finding a good job, March 21, 2010

* -- “We didn’t shock them, and we didn’t awe them in Baghdad. The phrase makes us look like foolish braggarts. The President ought to fire whoever wrote that for him.” – on the start of the war in Iraq in 2003

* -- “I recently bought this new laptop to use when I travel. Look at that. Fits right into my briefcase. It weighs less than three pounds. I lose that much getting mad, waiting to get on the plane through security at the airport.” – from an essay on computers, Feb. 11, 2009

* -- “We can all be prouder to be human beings because that’s what they were. They make up for a lot of liars, cheats, and terrorists among us.” – on the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger after it exploded on takeoff in 1986

* -- “Not many people in this world are as lucky as I’ve been. … All this time I’ve been paid to say what is on my mind on television. You don’t get any luckier in life than that.” – from Rooney’s final “60 Minutes” essay, Oct. 2, 2011

* -- “One of the things we can be sure of over the July 4th weekend is that news reports will keep telling us how many of us are going to die in automobile accidents.” – from Rooney’s first “60 Minutes” essay, July 2, 1978

* -- “The third rule of life is this: Everything you buy today is smaller, more expensive, and not as good as it was yesterday.” – from an essay on coffee cans, Oct. 23, 1988

* -- “A lot of these products are actually pretty good. But why are they always trying to con us with the contrived pictures on the box that don’t look anything like you get when you eat it?” – from an essay on the pictures on food packages, Dec. 4, 1988

* -- “I don’t know anything offhand that mystifies Americans more than the cotton they put in pill bottles. Why do they do it? Are you supposed to put the cotton back in once you’ve taken a pill out?” – from an essay on pill bottles, Oct. 12, 1986

* -- “I understand shipping – you have to expect to pay for the stamps or for the freight company – but what’s this handling they always have? How much does handling cost, anyway? I don’t want a lot of people handling something I’m going to buy before I get it. How much would it cost if you didn’t handle it before you sent it to me?” – from an essay on fine print, March 12, 1989

* -- “Dogs are nicer than people.” – from an essay on the true things in life, Dec. 5, 2007

* -- “I did not believe in the war. I thought it was wrong to go into any war. And I got to the war, and saw the Germans, and I changed my mind. I decided we were right going into World War II.” – from a CBS interview with Morley Safer, Oct. 2, 2011

* -- “I am interested in details. If you go into anything far enough, you get into the details of it, and people turn out to be interested in what makes things work.” – from a 2010 interview in The Colgate Scene

* * *

“Vegetarian – an Indian word for ‘lousy hunter.’” – Andy Rooney.

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