Editor’s Corner, JTMS Issue 44 (Spring 2019): The Art of Failure

The Art of Failure

by Michael R. Poll, FMS

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

~ Winston Churchill

A few years ago I visited a lodge to attend a Masonic function. Before the meeting, I noticed the Worshipful Master sitting downstairs in a corner by himself. He looked like the weight of the world was on him.  I went over to him and sat down. We began talking about life and Masonry. I then told him that he seemed troubled and asked if there was anything wrong.  He said that he was frustrated because everything he tried to do in his lodge seemed to fail. He said that he had planned a lecture at one meeting with a good speaker. He publicized the meeting and began talking about it when he was Senior Warden. At the night of the lecture, there was hardly enough members present to open the lodge. He was hurt and embarrassed. At another meeting, he spoke on having a lodge barbeque. Arguments broke out among the members as to where to hold the event. One member was so angry at the venue selected that he stormed out of the lodge vowing never to return. The lodge was not very large, but it seemed split in two or three factions. Each group had their own opinions and showed no interest at all in working with the other groups. The young Brother seemed to be at his wit’s end. He said that he just felt like quitting everything.

I believe that we have to realize that success and failure are subjective terms. With some lodges, it is fair to say that the Worshipful Master had a successful year simply because he was able to open the lodge for most of the meetings. The bar is higher with other lodges. But, the reality is that our goals as Masons are personal goals. Freemasonry gives us the tools with which we can improve ourselves as human beings. Our responsibility is to improve ourselves. It is not our responsibility, nor is it our right, to try to force anyone else to “improve.”  This assumes that we know what is best for others. It assumes that our knowledge of their path is greater than their own knowledge of it. It also denies the other of any benefit from a change that might be forced on them. We improve by making personal decisions and finding what is right for us. We may well believe that someone is completely on the wrong path. We may believe that they are lost and in serious need of help — our help. With that belief, we interfere in their lives. But, by forcing them in a direction that we believe is right, we may be denying them the ability to learn from their own mistakes. We don’t improve ourselves, or others, by forcing unwanted interference. This goes for individuals or groups such as a lodge.

Many lodges seem to have personalities of their own, not unlike people.  You may find lodges that are warm and friendly with outstretched hands to visitors, others that are cold and unresponsive. Some lodges just feel and act successful with everything running like clockwork and others clearly struggling. Most importantly, some lodges openly seek assistance and others do not, at all, desire it.  Lodges can be like people. With some lodges, you can quickly become friends. Other lodges just do not have the qualities that you desire.  You can’t (no matter how hard you try) be good friends with everyone.

It is not a failure to recognize that you are not on the same page as a person or a lodge. We all travel different paths and that is the same with lodges. The blame game helps no one. We are in a time when some lodges desire the deeper aspects of Freemasonry. They want to grow with the tools our ancient Brethren used and in the same manner as they use them. But, other lodges wish a simpler life. It is the right of everyone to choose their own path.  If you are in a lodge and nothing you try works, don’t be disappointed. The lodge may simply be on a different path than you. We all have that right. Move on to another lodge that may be moving more in line with your views of Masonry. It is not disloyal. It’s not a failure. The only failure is when you remain with something that you know is wrong for you.