Valuable life lessons

Learned from Red in “Shawshank Redemption”

In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Red is one of my favorite characters (played by Morgan Freeman). Red offers a plethora of narratives and one-liners that raise some eyebrows and persuade you to think a bit differently in some aspects.

For this reason, I thought it would be cool to look at some of his quotes from the movie, and see what kind of perspective Red can give us.


“I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy first time I laid eyes on him; looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. That was my first impression of the man.”

Ah, the old but ever-strong saying — never judge a book by it’s cover. Red came to find out that Andy was not just a weakling with a “silver spoon up his ass” as Red put it earlier in the movie. Andy became one of the most reliable people in Red’s life.

If he would have given into his preconceived notions and not given Andy a chance in the first place, they may never have become friends. An important lesson that Red teaches us here is that we have to overcome our biases and we have to break the mental barriers of our own misguided perception at times.

Red’s first impression seemingly only focused on a weakness that Andy portrayed. How will we ever get to the point of believing in each other if we’re pointing out weaknesses upon first impressions?

Thankfully, he was able to find the strengths in Andy that allowed them to become friends and even allowed them to become resources to one another. Overcoming those early stages of any relationship with someone may be awkward and difficult at times. If you can put aside those original preconceptions and truly get to know somebody, you may discover a valuable friend in your life for years to come.

“In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man six hundred years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty”

This is really more of a lesson we can learn from Andy, but it was Red’s quote, so we’re rollin’ with it. This is a story about how much you can get done with very little. Andy not only defied Red’s predicted timeline, but he also persevered beyond his own doubts. He may not have known whether or not he’d spend the rest of his life chipping away at that wall, but he decided to work toward getting through it anyway.

Andy used the tool that was available to him at the time and did the work necessary. How often do we think that we need more resources if we’re going to complete the task? Maybe we just don’t recognize our own abilities. Maybe we’re selling ourselves short. There are definitely times where I won’t even start working on something until I feel good about the amount of committed help I receive. Maybe in the future I’m going to start doing what I can with the tools I have. We’ll see what happens.

“Forty years I been asking permission to piss. I can’t squeeze a drop without say-so.”

At this point Red has obviously been in prison most of his life. He’s recognizing as he gets closer to parole that he may have to figure out how to function in society on his own again. The only problem with that is he has been asking permission to do the simplest daily tasks for years upon years. Red is really commenting on a way of life here, though.

At times we grow so used to the routine that we just become numb and stop asking, “why?” Why do we do the things that we do? We get up to an alarm that tells us we have to go to work. We trudge through some days attempting to perform at work, otherwise our boss might fire us. We stick to hobbies on the weekend because life loses a little meaning if we don’t participate in something. The part we miss is that all of this is by choice, right?

The daily choices that we make can land us in the position where we’re “asking permission to piss” consistently. Red’s circumstance is now unchanging, but at one time he chose to put himself in that situation. It’s definitely okay to have a routine, but I think we should challenge ourselves every once in a while to avoid running into complacency.

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

Red shows his ability to change throughout circumstance. The places that life has taken him have eventually restored his hope. He had seemingly given up on hope throughout his prison life because he had been countlessly denied parole. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to see a sunset over water again, have a relationship, and even questioned his ability to function in society.

When he pushed aside his judgment of Andy upon first meeting him, he ultimately saved himself from hopelessness. Andy was the friend that taught Red how to hope again. Red saw that Andy made it out and shortly after, he was granted parole and received the hope he’d been looking for.

Surrounding ourselves with the right people can be critical to our development. Allowing other people to speak into our life via their perspective may just be the avenue that we need to restore some much-needed hope.

“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”

Red is speaking of his time in the prison system. He recalls often throughout the movie how he has changed and how he has viewed his circumstance throughout the years he’s been incarcerated. In this particular case, Red admits that he’s become comfortable with his lot in life. He has come to a point in time where he has accepted his prison life, he is no longer uncomfortable with it, and he admittedly depends on the place to meet his necessities.

There are a couple of things we can learn from Red here. One of the big things that I find intriguing about his revelation is that it speaks to us becoming so comfortable in our situations that we no longer become restless about our circumstance, even when we should be.

The important part in this sequence is that Red was unsettled about his place life. He was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He was unhappy, to say the least. The fact that he admits that he now depends on these walls, doesn’t take away the fact that he’s still in prison. So much time has gone by that he has now accepted it, even though he should still find restlessness within his soul.

We can learn a lot from Red here. You may go through trials of all kinds for lengthy periods in life. It’s important to fight for change, especially mentally. Red appears to have given up hope, but without hope, what else do we have during troubling circumstances?

“Sometimes it makes me sad, though… Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

Red is looking back on the talks and memories he’s built with his friend. Sometimes life-changes force us to move on, but it doesn’t mean that we have to dwell on the negative feelings about it. Sure, we can recognize sadness, but we have to remind ourselves that the people important to us are continuing to move on, just like us.

When we become separated from one another, it gives us all the more reason to remember the things that we’ve learned, think of the memories, and continue to allow them to restore hope in us throughout our journies.

Memories from loved ones should never be wasted on gloom. There are always more opportunities for growth and you may find that at your next destination. In the mean time, it’s okay to hope.

“Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’”

This is an original quote from Andy earlier in the movie. Him and Red are talking about making it on the outside and Red doesn’t believe that he would be able to. Red tells Andy that he’s a person who “can get things” on the inside, but out there, all they need is the yellow pages. Andy tells him to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.

It’s a pretty self-explanatory quote that I think anyone can relate to their own life. Any time we let fear dictate our outcome in a given situation, we’re almost giving in to that second piece of that quote. When we do things afraid, we get busy livin’. Red believes that he’s limited and will have no purpose if he were to be released from prison, but Andy reveals to him that it’s about choice and attitude.

Red learns, though. When Red does get out, he tells the quote to himself in the midst of doubting whether or not he’ll be able to carry on and find Andy. It appears that Red realizes what Andy was originally telling him, and he chooses to move on.

Sometimes we’re afraid to get busy livin’. We think our own skill-set is limited by the walls that we create in our own life. The truth is, we can choose to not be bound by these walls. We can choose to get busy livin’.


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