20 Life Lessons We’ve Learned from Sons of Anarchy

Over the course of its six-plus seasons, as one of the most popular dramas on TV, Sons of Anarchy has told a lot of different stories with countless different characters and taught its audience a great deal about not just the nature of being a hard-working criminal but about life itself, no matter who you are or what you do. The FX biker drama, despite the specificity of the tale it’s telling, is universal in the way that the show represents the triumphs and struggles of its main characters. These are 20 life lessons we’ve learned from Sons of Anarchy.
1. Family is everything.
Above all else, above any hopes, dreams or desires you may have, even above your own well-being: family should and always will come first, as we’ve seen the characters on Sons of Anarchy illustrate so many different times through their actions, which they hope will somehow aid their loved ones. And these loved ones, the people who are a part of your family, do not need to necessarily be related to you because…
2. Brotherhood doesn’t come from blood.
…blood is not everything. Family, specifically the brotherhood that is forged between the members of SAMCRO, is about more than just whose brother, son, uncle, or nephew you are. Through this lifestyle, you begin to understand who you can trust and who you can lean on, and they may not look like you (or, in Chibs’ case, sound like you), but they’re your brothers nonetheless. Look no further for an example of this than last week’s season seven premiere, in which every single Son vowed that they would die for the man next to him. If that’s not commitment, loyalty, and love, then what is?
3. True love isn’t always meant to be.
Opie and Donna. Clay and Gemma. Jax and Tara. Most of Sons of Anarchy‘s biggest romantic relationships are ill-fated, with either one member of the pair dying or betraying the other. The idea of “true love” doesn’t really exist on the series, at least not in a romantic sense. The truest love that characters possess for one another is familial love, such as the love between brothers (members of SAMCRO) or parents’ love for their children (Jax and Tara caring for Abel and Thomas and, obviously, Gemma’s possessive love for Jax). The most important romantic relationship on Sons of Anarchy, Jax and Tara, ended with her being killed by Jax’s own mother, and I don’t know about you but I’m taking that as a sign from Kurt Sutter and the writers that they believe this idealistic nature of “true love” isn’t always what it’s said to be.
4. Mothers will go to extremes to protect their sons.
Tara was willing to fake a miscarriage and even possibly send Jax and the rest of the club to jail in order to protect Abel and Thomas. Gemma went on a rage rampage and killed Tara in order to protect and avenge Jax for what she believed Tara had done to him. Wendy went against Jax’s original requests to stay away from Abel, even after he threatened her and injected her with heroine, causing her to relapse. The women on Sons of Anarchy, particular those that are mothers, will essentially do and risk anything for their children, and while their actions may be based in love, it’s dangerous to see just what lengths they will go to for their family.
5. Write things down.
JT kept a journal that Jax has come to read, thus learning much more about his dead father, and at the start of season five, after Jax has become president, we see that he is doing the same for his sons. On Sons of Anarchy, the actions that characters take are incredibly important but almost just as significant are the thoughts that they think and the words that they say. By putting pen to paper and describing his intentions and plans to Abel and Thomas, Jax is ensuring that, no matter what physical legacy he leaves behind, there will be a strong and thoughtful moral and mental foundation in place for his children. Writing for Jax, and for most people (including myself), allows them to expose themselves f in a deeper and honest way—it allows for us to be the truest versions of ourselves.
6. Motorcycles are cool.
A shallow, superficial lesson? Maybe, but I’m not wrong. Sure, motorcycles may be loud and somewhat dangerous, but you’re lying to yourself if you say that you’ve never wanted to hop right on of the SAMCRO bikes after watching an episode of Sons of Anarchy. The actors just make the motorcycles look like so much fun to ride, and they seem so much cooler when they’re on them than when they’re not.
7. White tennis shoes go well with leather.
Just look at Jax Teller—how awesome and confident does that dude look? He doesn’t need boots to make himself comfortable as the outlaw that he knows he is. Seriously, though, while some people may mock the white shoe-wearing biker, Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam insists that members of motorcycle clubs in Northern California actually do wear white sneakers like he does, which is news to all of us non-biker gang people out there.
8. Don’t trust the Irish.
I say this is jest (especially because I’m almost 100% myself), but I don’t think there’s been a more untrustworthy group of individuals than the Irish on Sons of Anarchy. Whether they are causing issues with SAMCRO over the gun business, essentially holding Tig’s family hostage, or stealing Jax’s son and trying to place him with a new family, any and all people from Ireland (except for our beloved Chibs, of course) never seem to be too honest, friendly, or helpful. No, instead, they just cause a great deal of the drama that has unfolded over the show’s six-plus seasons.
9. Things would be so much easier if people didn’t have prejudices.
As the arrangement between Nero and Jax shows (along with the agreements that SAMCRO has made in the past with the Mayans and now Pope’s former guys), the world of crime and violence would be so less brutal and difficult if these biker gangs stopped judging each other by the color of their skin and just saw people for who they truly are. Thankfully, the Sons and none of the other groups that populate the Sons of Anarchy landscape are as stubborn, ignorant, and just plain evil as Ethan Zobelle’s crew from season two, with their “no exceptions,” neo-nazi, white supremacy mantra.
10. Morality is not always back and white.
As we’ve seen countless times on Sons of Anarchy, especially from law enforcement individuals, such as Unser or Eli, the morality of certain situations is not always dictated by the law, and just because something appears to be wrong on the surface, doesn’t meant it truly is. One of the best parts about Sons is how morally gray the series is. Technically, the show’s main group of characters are murderous, greedy criminals, who have dealt guns illegally and killed many men that have gotten in their way. However, the series is able to always provide a just, if not noble cause, for our flawed heroes most of the time, always connecting the motives for what they are doing back to more earnest and honest reasons like family or equality.
11. Always make sure to hire a good babysitter.
Because you don’t want the person watching your kid to be stabbed (R.I.P. Half-Sac) and then have an Irish thug run off with your newly born child in his arms, taking him away to an unknown location, so that you have to spend weeks (aka most of season three) looking for your baby, only to discover that he is being adopted by a new family. Just make sure the person you hire to take of your kids is ready for anything, and on Sons of Anarchy, that truly means anything.
12. The love of your child is irreplaceable.
Going off of that point and taking it a little more seriously, fans know that season two of Sons concluded with Jax’s son, Abel, being kidnapped, and the majority of season three focused on his quest to find and reunite with his, at this point, only child. One of the best sequences that Kurt Sutter and the creative team ever produced came in the show’s third season, and without Jax speaking a word (purely thanks to the music and the looks that sweep across Charlie Hunnam’s face) as he watches Abel with his new, potential family, we finally feel the incredible loss that Jax has been carrying around all season. As someone who is not yet a parent, it’s scenes like that help illustrate to me just how devastating it must be to lose any child, at any time, in any way. They’re irreplaceable.
13. Stepparents can be good or bad—there is no definite answer.
Simply look at the show’s two best examples: Clay, the bad stepfather, and Tara, the wonderful stepmother. Sons of Anarchy, despite its Hamlet influence, does not decide to depict all stepparents as selfish and cruel people. Instead, the series balances the light with the dark, showing us Clay’s purely self-motivated reasons for keeping Jax around to help do his bidding, never revealing to his stepson that he’s the person responsible for his father’s death. Meanwhile, Tara without even being asked, fully takes on the role of mother to Abel, feeding him, clothing him, and watching over him, even though he’s Wendy’s child. No matter how many stereotypical “evil stepmothers” you see, Sons of Anarchy counters with Tara being the representation of all the great stepmoms that are out there.
14. Law enforcement can be just as, if not more corrupt, than the criminals they are hunting.
Agent June Stahl. Lincoln Potter. Lee Toric. All members of law enforcement that were just as bad, if not worse, than any of the gang members shown on Sons of Anarchy. Stahl was partly responsible for the murder of Opie’s wife, Donna, and was solely the reason why Gemma was suspected of murder at the end of season two and beginning of season three. In season four, Potter threatened to expose to the club Juice with the information about his race, pressuring Juice to turn rat and spy on SAMCRO until he couldn’t do it anymore and attempted to kill himself. And Toric did his very best to make sure that Tara went to jail and ensured that Otto was brutally assaulted by numerous people while in prison. The three of them show exactly what can happen when the wrong people are in power and how they can twist and turn the law into something that is not moral and just but vile and vengeful.
15. Gender and identity are complicated issues that should be taken seriously.
Sons of Anarchy has, rightfully so somewhat, gotten a bad reputation for how its alpha-male characters talk about ideas of homosexuality, gender, and identity. However, in season five, Kurt Sutter made an unusual but ultimately rewarding decision to introduce us to Venus Van Dam (played by Walton Goggins of The Shield and Justified), a transgender escort who ultimately ends up forging a bond with SAMCRO. Venus returned in season six and will return again in the final season of Sons, helping to shed light on more LGBTQ issues, topics that are not frequently discussed or represented in more male-driven shows like this.
16. Walton Goggins can literally play any character on any show.
This one is short and sweet: go watch Walton Goggins in an episode of Justified or The Shield, or even his guest appearance in season five of Community, and you will not believe that he is the same actor that plays Venus Van Dam on Sons of Anarchy. Goggins’ acting range has always been out-of-this-world impressive, and his role as Venus has only solidified that claim.
17. Honesty is the best policy.
Think about if Jax had been more honest to Tara. If Juice had been more honest to the club. If Gemma had just been honest about what happened at the end of last season. So much of the (mostly thrilling and entertaining) drama on Sons of Anarchy is caused simply because of people making mistakes and not owning up to them. Honesty has never been something that the show has pushed as a good idea, but its characters’ actions prove how much better off people are when they speak the truth rather than cover it up.
18. Sometimes the ghosts we think are haunting us are actually guiding us.
Throughout the series, Jax has looked at the letters and the manuscript that JT left behind as some type of ghost that is haunting him. However, as we’ve seen and heard, through Jax’s actions and John Teller’s words, it appears that Jax’s deceased father hasn’t been haunting his son with his presence as much as he has been trying to help push him to go in the right direction, away from greed, corruption and violence and into something more stable and legitimate. Sometimes it’s the people we have lost in our lives that provide us with the best advice, even if we’re not open to hearing it just yet.
19. Crime may pay, but it also punishes.
Sure, members of SAMCRO have made a great deal of money over the show’s run, but look at the price they have paid. Most of the club’s members have gone to prison, been maimed in some way, and have lost someone they love. Piney, Opie, and Clay lost their own lives. Tig was forced to watch his daughter be burnt to death in front of him. Jax came home to find Tara, bloody and murdered, on their kitchen floor. While the guns, prostitution, and other forms of adult entertainment have helped fill their bank accounts, I bet all of the Sons would give the money back if they knew just how much else they would lose in the process, and it just goes to show that if you commit crimes, you must face the consequences of those actions.
20. If you don’t learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it.
Although there have been so many other stories told throughout Sons of Anarchy‘s run, the central focus of the series has always been and will always be what kind of man and what kind of leader Jax Teller is. Throughout the series, we’ve seen Jax flip and flop from his father’s philosophies to Clay’s, imposing extremes of each at one point or another. However, the one thing that Jax and all of us must always keep in mind is the past. If we study what went wrong before and do our best to change it in the days, months, and years to come, we can only make better lives for ourselves. And that’s why Jax should not subscribe to JT or Clay’s way of leading SAMCRO. In order to carve out the best possible future for the club, Jax must take what he’s learned about the past, avoid the same mistakes of those before him, and forge his own way forward. Then, and only then, will we know the answers to what kind of man and what kind of leader Jax Teller truly is.
Photos via FX
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