Life Lessons From "it's a small world"

Life Lessons From "it's a small world"

Earlier this week we provided a podcast and post that compared and contrasted all six “it’s a small world” attractions created over the decades. Our comparison chart was the foundation for showcasing the nuances found in each version of this attraction. Definitely check it out when you have the occasion.

Today we wanted to share three messages of inspiration that come from this attraction. You can find our podcast here on PodbeaniTunesSpotifyMyTuner, and ListenNotes.

At the heart of this attraction are these lyrics written by Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman: All of these life lessons are tied to the song itself. I promised not to sing the song, but we definitely need to check out the lyrics.

“it’s a small world” at Hong Kong Disneyland. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It’s a Small World has been a favorite since it opened in the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Afterwards, it came home to Disneyland.

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears,
It’s a world of hope, and a world of fears,
There’s so much that we share, 
that it’s time we’re aware, 
It’s a small world after all.

There is just one moon and one golden sun,
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains are wide,
And the oceans divide
It’s a small world after all.

Those two verses  along with the chorus are heard continously in different languages throughout the ride. Added to this were three more sets of lyrics written for Disney on Parade, an event show that traveled the country from 1969-1975.

It’s a world of star light of sky and sea
It’s a world of wonder for you and me
Like a world without end,
But come closer my friend,
It’s a small world after all.

In a world where people are still apart,
Build a bridge or handshake a hopeful start
If we hold out our hands, 
We will soon understand
It’s a small world after all.

If we just lock hands clear around the earth,
We will know how much 
Brotherhood is worth,
It’s a chain strong strong as steel,
In it’s strength we can feel,
It’s a small world after all.

The Mary Poppins/”it’s a small world” finale of the fourth version of Disney on Parade.

Lesson 1: There is Just One Moon and a Golden Sun

“it’s a small world” where “One Golden Sun” smiles as the sun sets in the land of the rising sun.

The lyrics send a compelling message of harmony and understanding. Yet, the irony of all of this is that the Sherman brothers, as successful as they were, really didn’t enjoy working together. Moreover, they made no association with each other afterwards and their families were practically strangers to one another. Roy Disney referred to their tempers as polar opposites: “Bob is ‘Feed the Birds,’ Dick is ‘Supercalifragilistic expialidocious.'”

It wasn’t until 2002 at the London stage premiere of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” that their sons started to reach out to each other. At that time, one brother was living in Beverly Hills and the other in London. As cousins, Gregg and Jeff began to interview people who knew their fathers over the years. Disney legends like Julie Andrews, Roy Disney, Angela Lansbury and Dick van Dyke all wanted to share their memories of working with the brothers. When Gregg showed his father the emotional interview done with Kenny Loggins, he turned to his son and agreed to get the families together.

The result became The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Storya movie that makes no villain out of either brother but simply tries to show how different people work together. While it’s ironic that they went so long unable to reconcile personally, it is amazing that what made them come together creatively was their conflict toward each other. That friction created a  contribution is an amazing musical library crafted over six decades, far longer than other song-writing greats such as the Beatles or the Beach Boys.

So ironic, from two men who wrote a song we call it’s a small world but that they themselves called, A Prayer for Peace. The words of the second verse speak of just one moon and one golden sun. In truth, Richard and Robert were the sun and moon to the entire Walt Disney organization. Totally different, but each radiating light in their own way.

Peace on Earth is proclaimed while the “Prayer for Peace”, “it’s a small world” is sung. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Lesson 2: And a Smile Means Friendship to Everyone

When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955, it became a question as to who to hire to run the park. The initial response was to employ carnival workers to come in and operate the attractions. After all, they had the experience. But it quickly became obvious that the look, demeanor and appearance of carnival workers were the very thing Walt Disney was trying to do away with. 

In time it became apparent that if Walt Disney wanted friendly employees he would have to hire friendly people. They could always be trained to operate the rides and attractions. But you have to hire for customer service. Then you have to set firm appearance guidelines and enforce them.  

Custodial Cast Members awaiting their clean up assignment at the end of the parade. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You can’t help but smile when you board a boat at “it’s a small world” and take the journey across the seas. One Forbes article written by Ron Gutman:

“Smiling is not just a universal means of communicating, it’s also a frequent one. More than 30% of us smile more than 20 times a day and less than 14% of us smile less than 5 times a day. In fact, those with the greatest superpowers are actually children, who smile as many as 400 times per day!

“Have you ever wondered why being around children who smile frequently makes you smile more often? Two studies from 2002 and 2011 at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed that other people’s smiles actually suppress the control we usually have over our facial muscles, compelling us to smile. They also showed that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles.”

South Pacific magic at Magic Kingdom. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

All of that said and done, if you hire friendly employees, and you train them on the importance of being friendly, how do you support them? That Cast Member will interact with at least half a dozen individuals before he or she steps onstage in front of the Guest. How many times has he or she been greeted with a friendly smile? Truly the back of the house is actually the front of the house to the front line employee. 

That same Forbes article notes a 30 year longtitudinal study by UC Berkeley that “examined the smiles of students in an old yearbook, and measured their well-being and success throughout their lives. By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict: how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others. The widest smilers consistently ranked highest in all of the above.”

No wonder you want to hire friendly employees! If you want to be successful, find friendly people. Of course, it’s more than hiring. You need to train them on the importance of being friendly, and you need to support them with an environment or culture that is friendly. There are a couple of stories we share in the podcast from Disney Legend Alice Davis. You can also see a short interview with her here where she describes how she, her husband Marc Davis, and Mary Blair came up with the finale to the show.

Lesson 3: Though the Mountains are Wide, And the Oceans Divide, It’s a Small, Small World

Among my childhood collections were Disney record albums I gathered. Some were the larger kind known as LPs which meant long playing. Some were smaller. Disney had a series of smaller album collections, known as the read-along series. One such album told Walt Disney’s story of “it’s a small world”. Most didn’t know there was a story. But there is, and on the podcast, we share that story.

Bobby visiting “it’s a small world”. Image by Disney.

If there is a powerful message within this story and within the attraction itself, it’s that while the mountains are wide and the oceans divide, we are really just one people. This is particularly true as we realize that all of us are currently subject to the same threat at the same time. Coronavirus is after all, a great equalizer. If there is one opportunity, it’s for all of us to realize that we are a part of everyone, and that everyone is a part of us.

“it’s a small world” is a beautiful tale of diversity and inclusion. It’s been sharing that message long before people saw it as an important component of successful organization. Diversity at Disney includes “valuing diversity of thought and perspective and connecting to the unique talents, gifts, backgrounds and experiences that each individual brings.” Disney is not perfect in this effort, but no organization is. But I believe that the message transcends the politics and bureaucracy.

Though the Mountains are Wide and the Oceans Divide, It’s a Small World After All.

Souvenirs for You & Life

From the three stories shared allow me to share for you some ideas that you can take with you:

  • What do you do to get along better with those you’d rather not work with?
  • How well can you separate business from your personal life/preferences/ feelings?
  • What criteria do we use to hire people? How important is it to have customer-friendly skills?
  • How is the back of the house supporting the front of the house in delivering a friendly experience?
  • How friendly are we toward others in terms of the processes we use, in terms of the support we render, in terms of the help we give?
  • Do we cherish diversity? Do you cherish the strengths and talents others bring?
  • Do we let the mountains and oceans divide us?
  • Are we one? Do we cherish what is in common among us? Do we include everyone?

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and share with others! What we’ve shared is a summary, but the meat of this message is in the podcast, so please listen!

That does it for this week. We’re trying to do this at least twice a month, if not more often, so please stay tuned. And please subscribe to receive notices when we provide posts. Also, when you subscribe to our newsletter, you receive the complimentary Complete Guide to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, complete with big updates, more photos and interactive maps throughout.

J. Jeff Kober