Humans have always seriously messed up their lives, but the way in which failure has been viewed has a long and fascinating history that it may help us to know about. Athens, 429 BC It’s the premiere of a tragedy called “Oedipus the King”, written by the great playwright, Sophocles. It’s the story of an honorable, capable
and highly resourceful man who, nevertheless messes up his life in a
catastrophic way but the audience doesn’t leave the theater thinking of Oedipus as a loser. Greek tragedy was designed to show audiences that terrible things can and very often do happen to good people, and therefore we must remain
sympathetic and kind in the face of failure. The Greeks force this message upon themselves again and again at prestigious annual festivals. The Greeks also love the story of the Spartan army at Thermopylae, where a small contingent of warriors held out to the last man against a vastly larger Persian force. The Spartans were utterly defeated, but their failure was seen as profoundly noble. You can lose and be good.
That was the moral. Rome, 46 AD Julius Caesar celebrates yet another triumph over the enemies of Rome. The Romans worship success. They believed that success in the
here and now is all that counts, and that success means three things: money, fame, and military glory, which creates a lot of anxiety around failure. Germany, 9 AD The Roman general, Varus, kills himself after losing a battle in the Teutoburg forest, not far from modern-day Hanover in the north of Germany. He’s made some major strategic errors in deploying his
troops. His suicide is an expected consequence; Failure is so humiliating and shameful that it shows one doesn’t deserve to go on living. The Romans represent a society where failure is thought of as naturally accompanied by shame. When big things go wrong you just kill yourself. There’s no excuse. A small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, 30 AD A former carpenter and itinerant preacher delivers a tender speech, which has since become known as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus Christ tells his followers “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”. In other words, the unsuccessful are, in a way, more successful than the successful in the eyes of God, because their failures erode arrogance and invite dependence on the divine. For hundreds of years Christianity lends glamour and prestige to failure, and challenges the worldly values of Rome. Privileging poverty, obscurity and weakness over wealth, fame and strength. Not simply you’re not meant
to commit suicide when you fail, failing is a sign of being blessed. Eastern India, sometime in the fifth century BC A wealthy young Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as The Buddha, The Enlightened One, comes to a key realization about human beings: all of us are deeply maladjusted, unhappy creatures. Worldly success, power, riches, love can mean nothing and will never satisfy us. We must learn to renounce our desires, and escape from constant cycles of craving and wanting. In Buddhist eyes, true success means utter failure in the eyes of a Roman soldier or a modern American. It means living under a fruit tree, owning nothing but a loincloth, and begging from passers-by. Paris 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte inaugurates a new social order, which will begin to be known as a meritocracy. No longer will success go only to members of the old corrupt aristocracy; he wants to launch a meritocracy marked by what he terms “la carrière ouverte aux talents”; careers open to the talented rather than just the privileged. France requires a new honest system based on merit. The Légion d’honneur, which is given to people of all classes, who were judged not by ancestry or wealth but by military scientific or artistic prowess. Suddenly, success comes to seem a lot more fair and deserved, which is very advantageous in many ways, but it also means that failure starts to be re-categorized as not merely accidental or morally neutral, as the Christian ideal had implied, but also in some ways, deserved. Paris, 1863 The French government sponsors its annual artistic salon, where the most successful painters are exhibited and celebrated. The jury, headed by the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, the head of the Academy of Fine Arts, is that year, extremely conservative and rejects two-thirds of the paintings presented, including those of Courbet, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissaro, and Whistler. The rejected artists and their
friends are outraged and protest. The Emperor, Napoleon lll, eventually
relents and allows the rejected artists to set up their own rival exhibition. Gradually the public and critics recognize that the officially successful artists, people like Alexandre Cabanel and Franz Winterhalter, are terrible painters, and that the unsuccessful ones are, in fact, the true geniuses. This will be a theme throughout the history of 19th and 20th century art, and society more broadly. The genius is at first rejected by a stupid, blinkered world, but eventually comes to be accepted and celebrated This is what happens to, among others, John Keats, Vincent van Gogh, Marcel Proust, Janis Joplin and Steve Jobs. “Real successes aren’t successes immediately” goes the story; they might need to wait for a
long time, perhaps until after their dead, a consoling story with echoes of the
Christian idea of redemption. New York, October 5, 1987 The right wing economics magazine, Forbes, publishes its first list of the richest people on the planet. The richest man is Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, who is at that point worth 20 bilion dollars. The tone of the magazine is
celebratory, and un-nuanced, reflecting an uncritical acceptance of
the idea of the American dream: “he who is richest finishes first”. It’s a small irony, therefore, that two weeks later, on October 19th, the world stock markets collapse, destroying wealth on an enormous scale, and shaking everyone’s confidence in the merit and sanity of the economic system. New York, September 2011 Following yet another global economic meltdown, a group of protesters occupy Zuccotti Park in the financial district of Manhattan. Their protest is, in a narrow sense, about the corruption and blindness of America’s financial institutions, but more broadly, the protesters are arguing that a narrow elite, the 1%, as they call them, have twisted our ideas of success and the good life. The so called “heroes”, people like Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan, who’s paid around 20 bilion dollars a year, are in fact the villains. Being a decent person doesn’t necessarily mean making a lot of money, it means acting wisely and kindly towards others and the planet. The protesters have a good few months in which to make their case, which sounds remarkably like that made by Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount, before the forces of contemporary capitalism hose them down and shut them up. Slowly, the economy recovers, which also means that the battered American dream, equating mobility with financial success, becomes dominant once more. Most of us are going to endure horrific
failures in some area or other of our lives. We’re an extremely success-focused world, and define success by some very narrow, normally financial criteria. There’s endless talk about opportunity, and well-meaning efforts to make sure that everyone can have a chance, but there is a deep silence about what happens when you fail. To weaken the power of the narratives of success, we used to have religion, and we used to have art. We have less of that now; the very idea that failure could be noble has entirely disappeared. We need to go back in history and fetch some ideas that could stop us from being fatally hard on ourselves, when we mess up in the eyes of Forbes magazine and the American Dream in general.

Comments 100

  • lol steve jobs

  • I have been very successful and have failed miserably, I have been up and I have been down, what I have learned is that when you are down you learn to live with a lot less comforts and frivolities and after a while you realize the absurdity of it all, being a hamster on a wheel running in pursuit of something (riches, happiness, love, possessions, etc) and I am reminded of something I learned as a child:  As a rule man is a fool, when it's hot he wants it cool, when it's cool he wants it hot, he is always wanting what is not, as a rule man is a fool

  • No one thinks the ceo of JP Morgan is a hero lol

  • I can't belive they made a video about me!

  • I failed 8 years of academics. I didn't quit on academics though. I rejoined college and am doing fine. I have made mistakes. I take responsibility. But the way some of my friends and family members treated me because of my failure, is truly appalling. All they care about is 'Education for education's sake'. I used to be so curious and enthusiastic. It has been trampled out of me now.

    The internet, especially portals like the School of Life are giving me the education I need. This is what education has to be about. I am slowly finding myself back to the curious, fun-loving, innocent kid I once was.

    P.S. Had to let it out. It feels Good!

  • the truth we do need look back in history and rember were are still those antient people trying to get by we may have more info and tools but so does bad luck in a sence….

  • 46 BC (not AD) for Caesar's triumph. He was assassinated two years later.

  • Chasing money will fail every time. You must do whatever you qre passionate with. If you give in to your productive passion and work day and night money will come. There isn't a single powerful person that does his work because his ultimate goal is gaining money he does it because he loves the game.

  • 4:11 "careers open to the talended**" – fail

  • your french is good as fuck. merde…

  • Dropped out of HS in 1976, have gotten a "School of Life" since then with many successes and failures. I respect educated people that use the education for the good of man, I detest "Professional Students" that never seem to be able to leave the protected confines of the halls of knowledge. This itself is failure, not to be looked down upon, for the only one hurt is the one with the lamp of knowledge sporting the blackout panes on it, never letting the light out.

  • How about this one:
    Chasing success usually ends in ultimate failure. At the end all the titles and glories of the world fall away, and all we have is our selves. Virgil expressed this in the Aeneid, through the character of Achilles (met in the underworld). Dante did pretty much the same thing, a thousand years later, through the character of Justinian I (Byzantine Emperor). It's a recurring idea.
    To my mind, success is measured by how much one learns and grows. If a person achieves real demonstrable growth in their lifetime, then they have succeeded as it were.

  • Siddhartha Gautam (Buddha) was born in Nepal.

  • Siddartha Gautam at 5 BC. At least do the required research correctly. A mistake in something so commonly known is really horrible.

  • Napoleon was obsessed about success, that's why he conquered Egypt and brought the obelisc to Paris: he wanted to be like Alexander the Great.

  • i know this is a lot of work but would you be so kind to show us your sources in the description?

  • the only failure i see here is that there isn't a picture of me

  • Failure is good. Success is alright.

  • I would like to correct something. 'Meek' did not mean weak, or unsuccessful. You could be a strong, successful, meek person.

  • thanks for Portuguese captions.

  • Steve jobs, really?

  • true, when we mess up about the capitalist current system which deviated from Smith's original Protestant work ethic, reinvest in wheel rather than in finance and real estate for self preservation, help the less-privileged as Christ says

  • Caesar was BC, not AD.

  • why should we do that

  • 3:10 historically inaccurate. Buddha was not an Indian prince.

  • Rome 46AD? Probably BC, as Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44BC. In 46AD, Claudius was emperor.

  • very beautiful

  • I believe that it's important to note that meritocracies had existed in several places before France at the end of the 18th century, most notably in China for civil service from as early as the 6th century BC.

  • This was the worst video I have seen from you. It seems like a point of view, if wealth makes you happy then shouldn't that be okay?

  • Please do a video about the "American Dream".

  • Gautama Buddha was from Nepal not India.Major flaw.

  • Julius Caesar was not alive during 46 AD. Great video otherwise though.

  • This video misses the failures of Marxism/Communism and how this has affected our view of failure and equality.

  • You have a really good French accent! I'm impressed

  • I'm a non english speaker and so i have to concentrate more than usual to understand what he is saying, but his voice… it's so pleasant to listen that i like paying attention only to his voice and i suddenly realise i'm lost somewhere xD

  • 3:13 Eastern India Approx. 5TH century BC … you have FAILED here 🙂

  • Love your great contribution passionately TO ENLIGHTEN MANKIND REGARDS

  • Please tell me the title of the painting at 8:12?

  • Supposed to be 500 BC not 5 BC

  • We're living failures

  • Thank you so much for this

  • Profound

  • love this video, puts modern perspective into context

  • I really enjoy and learn a lot from your videos. Its the first time i see videos about history of ideas and concepts being explained in clearance.
    Keep up the great work!

  • absolutely mindblown by each and every one of these videos. more people need to learn from these videos.

  • Apple Amazon would bow infront of you …..I am publishing a book for the consumer awareness a new revolution to the idea of word economy…This new system could save your jobs and protect you from AI ….Will you support a new economic system?I am waiting for a fair partner my model worth 15 trillion dollar that will guarantee you food shelter health breaking the hegemony of 1 percent ….Death to capitalism…Otherwise you are doomed by AI

  • Hey school of thought FYI Sidartha Gautama wasnt an Indian prince he was Born in Lumbini, Nepal.Totally disappointed because I actually thought you guys were legit.

  • The most powerful statement is said at the end. Let's see if you catch it….

  • The american dream has nothing to do with financial success . It has everything to do with being free to pursue what makes you happy within reason as long as your not infringing on someone else's rights. Its not like all the founding fathers got together and said hey lets get ridiculously rich bc its our dream for all Americans. They instead preached basic human rights and equality and freedoms for all . If you had just taken a moment to look at american history you would find that the older we have become as a nation the more socialized we have become and the more resentment we have for religion, thus giving birth the eye sore that you see today. Of course we are like everyone else at our core we just have a different approach on some things.

  • Meek at the time of the writing of the bible did not mean weak or unsuccessful. It meant "those that have swords, and know how to use them, but keep them sheathed". Using it as an example of ancient acceptance of failure is putting on our own impressions of reality onto them. It seems pedantic but it is an important difference.

  • 46 bc not ad, Caesar died 44bc

  • 1:06 Stuart from MAD TV (Let me do it)

  • 2:46–3:06 Interesting

  • A universal message indeed

  • Success, failure, it might seem like it matters now but does it really?Death is the great equalizer. We'll all be equal in the end

  • Siddharth Gautama wasn’t Indian prince. Instead he was born in Nepal as a prince. Later he travelled India for search of an enlightenment and eventually became known as Buddha. Correct your facts.

  • Each failure is a lesson. Never stop learning.

  • Thank you!!!!

  • The occupy protesters the good guys and Wall Street the bad guys? you cant condem business from trying to be as successful as possible, or even taking advantage of a bad situation.

  • Watching a YouTube video about failing and I think I'm failing as a YouTuber, this video helped though.

  • The goal of an arrow is to hit its target…

  • For all the Catholics out there, don't forget, you have
    St. Birgitta of Sweden, the Patron Saint of failures.

  • Ultimately, everything results in failure. At some point our species will be extinct. Excepting of course the theory that humans are the only species to which the rule of inevitable extinction does not apply (150,000 years being the typical length of a species if I remmember correctly). Nothing any of us do really has much point. It will all be for nothing in the end. But rather than be depressed about that, one should see at as a point of inspiration to live as you want, define success as you want. Because living by any other definition is not going to make any less difference at the end.

  • The protestors are idiots. Coca cola can't do anything to me. Bill gates the inventor of the computer can't do anything to me. Basically the rich are rich because they made profit from the people amd nearly all of them are based on material needs such as food, water and computers. Now how does the 1% have power over me as an individual? They do not own my land nor do I having anything in relation to them. Aristocracy, beaurocracy and authoritianism do not participe in the club of the 1% and they do have power over citizen. Just because people have more money that the average person doesn't mean they have power over them. They say we are oppressed by the 1% yet if you saya millionaire is oppressed by the billionaire because they have far more money and they are the minority, people would scoff and mock this millionaire and would think he is envious. Yet we do not apply it to the middle class which have good amount of supply and live good lifes to the worldly standards. They are the greedy, they are covetous, they are the envy. We do not live in a corporate system like it was in pre-communist Russia (which led it to communism). Instead we live in a capitalist country which is a meritocracy. Meritocracy is what led to the modern world and I think this best.
    The bible in no way doesn't support meritocracy and in fact in Tessolians there is a verse where it tells you to work to eat. They cherished the poor because they were weak and as a message to christianity, you don't have to discriminate against them and the weak ones need help fron the people. These 2 views are not contridictions to each other. In fact the bible in 1 Timothy critisize the wealthy who got their wealth by not working. School of life have propaganda to spread. I could go one talking of the false hood of this video like how capitalism is a meritocracy and how the american dream cherish failure. For example most americans believes in hard work instead of luck. And businesses usually fails 5 times before succeding. Capitalism is based on failure and hardwork where people can learn how to devellop, succeed. No one thinks as the rich as so important like what did medieval europe. We have other figure in today's culture such as in the christian view Jesus and by pop culture standards, celebrities, political leaders and others. I don't really see how the rich is viewed as noble and americans don't think that much about them. We sherih hard work and is the reason maybe that we sherish rich people because of their hard work and success in the world. Success to me is how better life can get.

    It seems that I have said enough and I can add info on the falsehood but I think this is enough to see how wrong is this video.

  • Failure is noble, and an excellent teacher.

  • Siddhartha Gautam was Nepali prince who was enlightened in India. That's when he was called, Gautam Buddha.

  • Siddhartha Gautam (Lord Buddha) was NOT an Indian prince. I know that this is a very small part of the entire video and factual errors in this sort of deeply analysed videos are sometimes inevitable.
    But Lord Buddha was born in Kapilvastu, Nepal. While this error might seem insignificant to a whole lot of you, he is one of the most important symbols in the international platform linked with Nepal's identity and hence this error becomes personal.

    Love your channel, but you need to be a little more sensitive, The school of life.

  • Money is a form of power and power allows one to shape reality. The question is how?

  • I’m n excellent failure

  • the definition of Failure depends on culture and personalty

  • 4:11 What's up with that spelling of talented?

  • Thank you for informative videos! 😊 Knowledge is a great power! 💎

  • It is amazing how 1000 years of the Islamic history conveniently was skipped over as if they never existed.

  • It is amazing how 1000 years of the Islamic history conveniently was skipped over as if they never existed.

  • 46 AD? Really?

  • Well done sir What a great explanation.


  • 1:05 best part of the video! LMAO!

  • love these videos "the history of..". thank you!

  • Wrong fact About Julius Caesar, he have died 44 BC.

  • "destroying wealth a historic scale"… for who? the POOR. For those whose wealth is perceived.
    The TRULY wealthy? They could now OWN the property that GENERATED wealth.

  • How come we do not have more videos like this?

  • American media purposely suppresses this information. it wouldnt sell drugs and guns for white men who commit suicide in significant numbers every year.

  • There is no success without failure…

  • Jesus makes me nauseous.

  • you can fail many times but you'r not a failure until you blame someone else

  • Siddhartha Shakya(Gautam Buddha) was born in the kingdom of Kapilvastu. Present day Nepal.not in fucking bitchy country india

  • At 1:20, I think you meant "Rome, 46 BC"

  • I have done
    When I was
    Younger in my
    Life is tongue kissing
    A random teenage girl
    A long time ago but I have asked
    God to help me out with my issues also

  • Another great video.

  • Moralizing failure is not a success.

  • Brilliant as always! Thanks for sharing~

  • Steve jobs was an asshole. Apple sucks. Don't admire a guy who denied his own child was his. Backstabbed his friends. And now currently tries to impede technology with kleptocracy. Also steve jobs was an asshole at times. And apple currently invest more in money than innovation.

  • But I love your channel and respect your opinions and especially your contributions to fact.

  • this video needs to be watched more,shared more and applauded more

  • well first, the artists who were accepted by the salon – winterhalter, bouguereau, etc. – were not "terrible" artists! They had incredible technical capability and produced paintings of utter beauty and skillful realism. It just wasn't as purely expressive and colorfully flavorfully passionate as the early impressionists and etc. This does not make them "terrible artists!" There are many types and forms of art and artists.

  • You are succeeding when ur failing.

  • all these videos have a sorta above everyone commie slant, alot is true but it does cover the underlying issues. the villians are the power elite jamie diamond is simply a frontman, even jp morgan was a frontman he didnt even own his bank. be creful what you learn from all these videos.

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