Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that's as critically acclaimed as it is beloved by fans and deserves nothing less than praise. Whether you're a kid watching it for the first time, or a grown-up rewatching it for the umpteenth time, Avatar has lots to offer and you'll find yourself discovering something new each time you revisit.
Over the course of its three seasons, Avatar has taught us many lessons about life, and the main source of wisdom was undoubtedly Zuko's uncle Iroh. His words of wisdom are a staple of Avatar and the show simply wouldn't be what it is without this lovable old man and his unparalleled wisdom.
Updated By Ajay Aravind on Dec 28th, 2021: Uncle Iroh is one of the wisest, gentlest, and most memorable characters in the Avatar franchise. He is kind to everyone, even those who mistreat him, because he understands that every person is embroiled in their own personal battles. As such, most sentences that emerge from Uncle Iroh's mouth are eminently quotable.
20 "THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH A LIFE OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY. I SUGGEST YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT IT IS YOU WANT FROM YOUR LIFE."
With uncle Iroh hailing from the Fire Nation, his entire life was spent fighting a raging war for the nation's dominance. He knew the value of a time of peace even though he didn't often get to experience it.
This sentiment, meant for Zuko, was an acknowledgment that Zuko didn't have to spend his entire life fighting if he didn't want to. He could walk away from the fight and leave someone else to pick it up. The idea that the fight can be too much and one can walk away isn't a sentiment often broached in children's television.
19 "BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, ADMIRAL. HISTORY IS NOT ALWAYS KIND TO ITS SUBJECTS."
When most people think of phrases associated with history, they think of the quote that "history is written by the victors." While that sentiment is true, uncle Iroh also knew that just because someone was victorious didn't mean the future would look kindly on them.
There was no line Admiral Zhao wouldn't cross in his quest for power - and to make himself valuable to the Fire Nation Emperor. Uncle Iroh, for all the good he did during the course of the series, was similar in his youth. He knew that the things he did were not the kinds of things to look back kindly on.
18 "AT MY AGE, THERE IS ONLY ONE BIG SURPRISE LEFT, AND I'D JUST AS SOON LEAVE IT A MYSTERY"
Uncle Iroh makes his peace with the prospect of his inevitable death long before he actually dies, somewhere between his nephew's ascension to the throne and Korra's birth.
Lu-ten's untimely demise forces Iroh to realize the value of life, which is when he begins to take his duties a lot less seriously. This quote proves that he doesn't mind dying, but he would prefer it to come as a surprise so he doesn't spend his moments alive in unnecessary fear.
17 "FAILURE IS ONLY THE OPPORTUNITY TO BEGIN AGAIN."
While Iroh might not have looked back too fondly on his days waging war for the Fire Nation, he also knew not to dwell on his past mistakes. If he failed in a task, he tried to move on from it. Dwelling on the failure itself was a mistake, but starting over meant life went on.
To be completely fair, a similar sentiment is also credited to Henry Ford, so Uncle Iroh's words were likely inspired by the real-life figure.
16 "SOMETIMES, THE BEST WAY TO SOLVE YOUR OWN PROBLEMS IS TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE."
Though uncle Iroh was the one who said this line, the sentiment played out numerous times in the series itself. Aang gained allies with every person he helped, Zuko learned about himself when he helped a family persecuted by bullies who were soldiers, Katara grew more adept at her abilities as she trained Aang, and Sokka grew as a leader when helped the Kyoshi warriors.
Iroh even made this line come to life when he decided to help liberate Ba Sing Se. The series made it clear that every time someone helped another, their actions had far-reaching consequences.
15 “PROTECTION AND POWER ARE OVERRATED. I THINK YOU ARE VERY WISE TO CHOOSE HAPPINESS AND LOVE.”
As Iroh and Aang descend into the crystal catacombs of Ba Sing Se, the young Avatar wonders if he made the right decision to protect Katara over learning his chakras.
Iroh informs Aang that love and happiness are far superior to power and protection, proceeding to describe life as a dangerous, albeit extremely rewarding, journey. The older man has loved and lost enough to comprehend the importance of moving forward, regardless of the destination.
14 "GOOD TIMES BECOME GOOD MEMORIES, BUT BAD TIMES MAKE GOOD LESSONS."
Iroh experienced his share of good times. He seemed to have fond memories of his experiences with different game players and tea drinkers. He also, however, experienced his share of tragedy.
Much like his belief that failure allowed someone to begin again, Iroh knew that he could learn from his mistakes and the tragedy in his life. His bad experiences became learning opportunities, striving to become better. He wanted the same for his nephew, which is likely why so much of his wisdom was aimed at Zuko.
13 "IT IS USUALLY BEST TO ADMIT MISTAKES WHEN THEY OCCUR, AND TO SEEK TO RESTORE HONOR."
Prince Zuko was on a quest to restore his honor, but if he had listened to his uncle Iroh earlier he would have known that his way of doing things was wrong. According to the wise words of uncle Iroh, “It is usually best to admit mistakes when they occur, and to seek to restore honor”.
For Zuko though, rather than chasing the Avatar across the world to please his father, Zuko would have been better off if he had acknowledged his mistakes right away and worked towards restoring his honor himself, instead of waiting for his father to do so.
12 “POWER IN FIREBENDING COMES FROM THE BREATH, NOT THE MUSCLE!”
Breathing is one of the most important components of any exercise, and the same applies to all four bending arts. Iroh explains that the breath contains energy and power that can be channeled through the body far more effectively than brute force is capable of.
This point is particularly impactful because Zuko strongly believes that physical strength and Firebending are directly proportional, a notion that nearly gets him killed on many occasions.
11 "IT IS IMPORTANT TO DRAW WISDOM FROM MANY DIFFERENT PLACES."
In the season two episode “Bitter Work”, Iroh decides to teach Zuko how to use his bending abilities to create lightning. Iroh also gives Zuko an important lesson on keeping an open mind and understanding others, which will help him become wiser.
Iroh implies that if we work on understanding different cultures, beliefs, philosophies, and ways of life, we enrich our own understanding of the world and become wiser.
10 "IT'S TIME FOR YOU TO LOOK INWARD AND START ASKING YOURSELF THE BIG QUESTION: WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?"
After his banishment, Zuko was hell-bent on fulfilling his destiny and restoring his honor. In his mind, the only way to do these things was to capture the Avatar. Luckily, Zuko had a voice of reason to guide him and make him realize that his destiny doesn’t have to be to capture the Avatar.
Iroh wanted Zuko to live life on his own terms – to be the person he wanted to be and do the things he wanted to do. As the older man put it: “It’s time for you to look inward and start asking yourself the big question: who are you and what do you want?”
9 "IF YOU LOOK FOR THE DARK, THAT IS ALL YOU WILL EVER SEE."
One of Iroh's darker pieces of advice, this quote refers to navigating one's inner world – it means that searching for the light, for an answer, for something tangible and hopeful, will help one orient themselves on their personal journeys.
Unfortunately, it also means that people who are unable to perceive the light; in other words, those clouded by thoughts of anger and despair may never find their way out.
8 "SHARING TEA WITH A FASCINATING STRANGER IS ONE OF LIFE’S TRUE DELIGHTS."
Iroh had a hard life. He loses his son, his legacy, and even his nephew. Despite all that, he has the will and compassion to sit down and have a conversation with Toph, a girl he’d never met, and even offer some advice.
Iroh’s resilience, strength, and uncanny ability to find happiness everywhere around him are nothing short of impressive. His life hasn't been easy, but it’s taught him to appreciate the little things. When Toph thanks him for the tea and the talk, Iroh simply says: “Sharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of life’s true delights”.
7 "HOPE IS SOMETHING YOU GIVE YOURSELF. THAT IS THE MEANING OF INNER STRENGTH."
Let’s face it, Zuko would have gotten nowhere without the support of his wonderful uncle Iroh. The man has done everything to keep Zuko in high spirits, enlighten him about the things he couldn’t comprehend, set him on the right path, and raise him into an honorable man.
When Zuko came close to giving up hope, Iroh made sure he knew just how important hope is. Uncle Iroh knows that positivity yields positive results, whereas self-pity won’t get you anywhere – a lesson we should all try to remember.
6 "SOMETIMES LIFE IS LIKE THIS DARK TUNNEL."
While uncle Iroh is usually dispensing wisdom to his nephew Zuko, in the season two finale, Aang got the chance to be inspired by uncle Iroh. While the two were making their way through the tunnel to the underground prison to rescue Katara and Zuko, Aang took the opportunity to seek some advice.
Iroh gladly shared some of his wisdom with the young Avatar, adding, quite poetically, that: “Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving you will come to a better place”.
5 "DESTINY IS A FUNNY THING. YOU NEVER KNOW HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO WORK OUT."
Throughout the show, Zuko went on and on about destiny and honor. When we first meet Zuko, he strongly believes that his destiny is to capture the Avatar, but his uncle Iroh knows that destiny isn’t all that simple.
Of course, Iroh was right. Zuko’s destiny was never to capture the Avatar and once he opened his mind to other possibilities he realized that his true destiny is to help the Avatar. What uncle Iroh was trying to teach Zuko is that nothing is written in stone and that it's up to him to decide what his destiny is.
4 "WHILE IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO BELIEVE IN ONESELF, A LITTLE HELP FROM OTHERS CAN BE A GREAT BLESSING."
Leave it to uncle Iroh to correct his wannabe robber's stance, make him delicious tea, give him career advice, and share some of his infinite wisdom. While in Ba Sing Se, a man attempted to rob uncle Iroh, but he had no idea who he was messing with.
Iroh tells the man that he should become a masseur, and the man is overwhelmed to finally have someone who believes in him. Uncle Iroh tells him that “while it is always best to believe in oneself, a little help from others can be a great blessing”.
3 "PRIDE IS NOT THE OPPOSITE OF SHAME, BUT ITS SOURCE. TRUE HUMILITY IS THE ONLY ANTIDOTE TO SHAME."
In the season two episode “Bitter Work”, uncle Iroh sets out to teach Zuko a super-secret awesome Firebending move he invented that not even Azula knows how to perform. However, once Zuko actually attempts to create lightning, he fails over and over again, causing him to get angry.
He tells Zuko that in order to perform this move he has to let go of his feeling of shame in order for his anger to go away. What Iroh is trying to explain to his nephew is that his anger at the world comes from shame. So, in order to let go of one’s anger, one must let go of arrogance and embrace humility.
2 "LIFE HAPPENS WHEREVER YOU ARE, WHETHER YOU MAKE IT OR NOT."
When Prince Zuko arrived in Ba Sing Se, he wasn’t taken by the Earth Kingdom’s charms. Behind its massive walls, Zuko felt trapped, and even compared the city to prison, saying that it’s not the place he wants to make a life in. But his wise uncle was quick to point out the mistake in his reasoning, saying:
Uncle Iroh knows that life happens around us all the time, everywhere, and that it’s not something that we exclusively make. He’s telling Zuko to make the best of life wherever he is because whether he actually wants to be there or not doesn’t change the fact that life will go on.
1 “I WAS NEVER ANGRY WITH YOU. I WAS SAD, BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID YOU’D LOSE YOUR WAY.”
Zuko treats his uncle with the utmost disrespect for a long time, and is utterly distraught when he realizes the consequences of his final betrayal in Ba Sing Se.
Zuko searches for Iroh, hoping to beg for forgiveness and throw himself at his uncle's mercy, but the old man simply hugs his nephew tight. Iroh explains that he never once bore a shred of hatred towards Zuko, only sadness that the latter might be following in Ozai's footsteps.