“You Can’t Argue With Success”

I hear those words most often in the office nowadays, as colleagues from my former company adjust to the acquisition. When we are most frustrated, we remind ourselves of the endless rounds of layoffs before we were bought, and the profitability we now enjoy. “You can’t argue with success!” reminds us to focus on the achievement – a good and wonderful thing. But … without argument?

Is this phrase a celebration of success? Or admonishment to conform, and a dismissal of critique? I started to wonder, when I noticed this darker side of success showing up outside the workplace, too.

Take Montessori, for example. It’s a successful system of education that “emphasizes a collaborative environment without grades or tests, multi-aged classrooms, as well as self-directed learning and discovery for long blocks of time.” That same Wall Street Journal article says that “the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite.” Oh, really?

I don’t disagree that the Montessori way is wonderful, but does that mean that other types of schools are not wonderful? I learned how to write poetry in a rural public school. Teachers at a white flight private school introduced me to my lifelong loves of history and journal writing. Both schools exposed me to language, arts, and cultures different from my own, giving me a broad base for my own creativity and relationship to society. The Montessori way isn’t the only way.

Take the modern church service, as another example. It’s a wonderful renewal of the relationship with God, using a variety of rituals, readings and prayers, with contemporary language and music. The biggest, most successful churches have all these elements, and more. You can’t argue with success, right? And yet, there is something to be said for the Christian communities that worship in a different way.

Quaker communities sit in silence, listening for the “small still voice” of God within, occasionally sharing a compelling inspiration aloud. Early morning services in Anglican churches use formal language, often without any music, providing a simplicity, timelessness, and connection through the centuries, very different from the full production services held later in the morning. To those Anglicans and Quakers, these venues are also successful ways to renew their relationship with God.

I’m not arguing against success. As the saying goes, you can’t. But I will argue with any monopolistic claims on success. There is no single path to success in business performance, childhood education, or spiritual growth. In these, and many other Important Things in Life, what leads some people to success is going to feel like failure to others.

So please, celebrate the road that is taking you to success. And respect the road that you have not taken.

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