Despite being a secondary character, Uncle Iroh is the true badass of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. When the series opens we see Iroh as a good-hearted old man equally as passionate about tea as he is about dispensing wisdom to his nephew via proverb. In his younger years, however, Iroh was one of the most powerful men in Fire Nation. He was the crown prince, and a feared general tasked with leading the offensive against the great walled city Ba Sing Se. His reputation for having slain the last dragon in addition to his ability to breath fire from his mouth earned him the reputation of “The Dragon of the West”. So what took Iroh from fearsome general and crown prince, to a happy-go-lucky grandpa type who can’t get enough tea? Simple. He stopped doing what he hated.
Don’t Do Stuff You Hate
In Isaac Morehouse’s most recent book “Don’t Do Stuff You Hate” he elaborates on his simple motto. It’s quite easy, don’t do stuff you hate unless it fulfills two simple criteria; the first is that it must get you to somewhere you love, and the second is that there must be no other more enjoyable alternative to get you there. If you hate doing an activity, and it isn’t getting you to somewhere you love, stop doing that thing (like right now). If it is getting you to somewhere you love and there is a more enjoyable alternative, do that instead. When you examine your options and what you are doing is the least miserable way to get to where you want to be, then at least you know you are on the right track.
What does all this have to do with Uncle Iroh? Iroh’s father, the Fire Lord, saw him as the perfect son. He dedicated himself to his father’s dream of extending the Fire Nation across the globe and he was ruthless in his means to achieve that end. During the siege of Ba Sing Se, Iroh’s son, who was under Iroh’s command, died in battle. Distraught with grief he was forced to examine his life up to that point. Iroh realized that the life he was leading was not one that brought him any fulfillment. He was living to fulfill his father’s dreams and he decided to live for himself instead. He retired from the military and refused the crown. Military and political power did not interest him, and he knew he had to follow his two great passions; family and tea.
Iroh took Prince Zuko in as a son, and constantly taught him to not live life a certain way just because others expect it of you. Throughout the series one of the most touching relationships is between Iroh and Zuko. Iroh ever-so-gently encourages Zuko to break free of the expectations of his father the Fire Lord, just as He himself had broken free from his own father’s expectations, and eventually Prince Zuko understands what Iroh had been trying say and allies with the Avatar.
Living for Himself
Uncle Iroh is often mocked for having forsaken the throne and for living in obscurity. This doesn’t bother Iroh at all because he knows what makes him come alive. Even when Zuko and Iroh had been officially banished by the Fire Lord were are penniless refugees in Ba Sing Se, Iroh found a job in a Tea house and improved on the owner’s recipe. People took notice and when the owner eventually fired him (taking the changes to his recipe as a personal insult) investors noticed and gave Iroh enough money to set up his own Tea House.
Uncle Iroh did many impressive things throughout the series; he helped defend the spirit of the moon in the Northern Water Tribe, he escaped from prison after a kick-ass training montage, he helped Zuko to realize his potential, and defended the city of Ba Sing Se from his brother the Fire Lord. The most impressive of all is that he followed his passions. Uncle Iroh lived out the rest of his days serving tea in the city on which he once laid siege, and that’s what makes him the true rockstar of the series.