Each abysmal failure makes a point
Every glowing path that goes astray
Shows you how to find a better way
So every time you stumble, never grumble
Next time you'll bumble even less
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes
Grow the roses of Success!
Grow the roses, grow the roses, grow the roses of Success (oh, yes!)
Grow the roses, those rosy roses
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of Success!
For every big mistake you make, be grateful (hear, hear!)
That mistake you'll never make again (no, sir!)
Every shining dream that fades and dies
Generates the steam for two more tries
Oh, there's magic in the wake of a fiasco (correct!)
It gives you that chance to second guess (oh yes!)
Then up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of Success!
Disaster didn't stymie Louis Pasteur (no sir!)
Edison took years to see the light (right!)
Alexander Graham knew failure well
He took a lot of knocks to ring that bell
So when it gets depressing it's a blessing
Onwards and upwards you must press (yes, yes!)
Till up from the ashes, up from the ashes
Grow the roses of Success!
From the 1968 classic children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, today’s musical poetry offering is brought to you by Grandpa Potts (superbly played by Lionel Jeffries), ably assisted by a hoary old cadre of eccentric prisoners/inventors, all warbling this fabulous little ditty together while attempting to encourage him in the face of impossible odds. Nil desperandum carborundum and all that (yes, I know the Latin is really not correct… but the sentiment is right on).
Anyway, thank you, Richard and Robert Sherman. This song of yours, The Roses of Success, reaffirms yet again why you are among the most brilliant songwriters in entertainment history. We hum and sing your catchy songs all the time. They’re always memorable, and as in this one, frequently offer up amazingly apropos and timeless philosophical nuggets of wisdom. Yes, indeed: up from the ashes grow the roses of success. Something to keep in mind when we’re writing, and in real life.
…ironically, fifty years later, this seems rather a subversive piece when set against the prevailing nanny state we have somehow managed to set up. Why? Because it promulgates a message that today seems very counter-cultural: failure is normal, an integral part of life, to be expected, and not feared.
Folks, we learn from failure… or, at least, that’s the natural order in nature. When you mess up, you need to find a different way to accomplish your goal… because if it exploded in spectacularly dismal fashion the first time you did it that way, chances are, all else being equal, it’s not going to work if you try doing it the same way a second time. Or the third. (Remember that old adage about the definition of insanity?) Animals seem remarkably good at rapidly learning this, and for good reason: if they don’t, they won’t just be a Disappointed Bear; they’ll very quickly also be dead. Nature is beautiful, but it’s also often quite unforgiving. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Not so with modern human society, but we appear to have corporately decided to outlaw failure. I was going to add the qualifier inasmuch as we are capable, but that flies in the face of that other modern myth --- you know, the one saying We Are In Control Of Everything Around Us, Including Ourselves.
Hmm. I’m not sure where or when this happened, exactly. Must have missed the memo on this one, and frankly, I’d kind of like to know, because it somehow seems to have occurred during my lifetime (although it sure as hell didn’t occur on my watch, because my wife and I didn’t raise our children that way, and over more than three decades, I’ve never run my secondary school classroom like that).
As an educator since Pontius was a Pilate, I see this all the time with children. We seem to have raised an entire generation of kids by trying our utmost to bubble wrap them and protect them from the slightest whiff of failure. And while that’s understandable on one level, it’s had the dubious and completely unintended result of producing a generation that has almost no coping skills and no ability to handle what Will terms the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when --- not if --- life inevitably throws crap at them. And so they fold, they wilt, they curl up into fetal positions and give up and die… sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. And it’s horrible to watch.
I get it: nobody likes experiencing failure. It sucks like a vacuum cleaner. It stinks on ice. Nobody --- well, I hope nobody --- leaves the house in the morning thinking to themselves: Hey! This would be a wonderful day to completely screw up my life! Yep, that’s my goal for the day! Personally, I hate it when I fail, hate it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. And when it happens, I do not console myself by articulating that it’s a necessary part of learning to succeed. Nor do I particularly want some well-meaning idiot telling me that, either. But (sigh) it’s true, nonetheless.
Some time back, I wrote a post suggesting you should throw rocks at your protagonist (you can read that post here if you’re interested). On a literary level, it’s both interesting and enlightening, entertaining and edifying, to see characters dealing with Will’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And after all, characters have to learn those difficult but necessary life lessons, or they won’t make it to the sequel. Hell, they won’t make it to the end of the book.
And come to that, neither will we.