Making Error Real

by Allen Watson

Many people think that the Course teaches us "not to make the error real," which many think refers to the central error of separation. Although the Course strongly emphasizes the importance of not making error real, it never uses the phrase, "make the error real"; it always omits "the." It uses the phrase in the context of error, or sin, we are seeing in another person. That is the error referred to, not the separation. To make error real means to believe that our interpretation of something as bad or sinful is not simply an interpretation, but a fact.

When we judge someone's actions as "bad," our mind has made a choice to see the ego's world rather than God's. When we experience guilt, we have an unconscious need to project our guilt onto someone else. We choose to blame someone else for our discomfort.

Based on that choice, the mind then interprets what we have seen. We label what our brother did as attack, or abandonment, or neglect, or some other "sin." We then freeze that interpretation. We "make it real"; we convince ourselves that our interpretation is fact. We then have an emotional reaction to that "fact" and react accordingly.

Here's how the Course defines making error real: "To perceive errors in anyone, and to react to them as if they were real, is to make them real to you." (T-9.III.6:7)

To make error real means to interpret a brother's actions as sin, and to view that interpretation as fact. We then (1) attack the "sinner," (2) erect defenses (the victim), (3) "forgive" it by abstaining from counter-attack (false forgiveness or the martyr), or (4) try to "fix" it (the unhealed healer).

The Course tells us not to make error real in any of these ways because it makes forgiveness impossible:

The ego's plan is to have you see error clearly first, and then overlook it. Yet how can you overlook what you have made real? (T-9.IV.4:4-5)

Once you make that false interpretation and believe it to represent reality, you cannot help reacting emotionally and behaviorally to it. You cannot forgive it until your perception is changed by a miracle. In the Holy Spirit's brand of forgiveness, however, you overlook the error from the start (T-9.IV.5:3). He heals your mind of its false perception of "a real sin." Forgiving then becomes a "natural reaction," "the only sane response" (T-30.VI.2:1-8).

When you see a person's ego as if it were real, you have already chosen to perceive through your own ego (T-9.III.3:1). If you see anyone—yourself or another person—as guilty in any way, you are making error real, because all guilt is unreal (T-13.X.6:5; T-13.X.7:3).

To put this another way: When you believe someone is attacking you, treating you unfairly, or causing you pain, that is only your perception or interpretation of what they are doing. You are making it by believing it is the truth. There is another way to see it.

Such a drastic change of perception is not simply difficult, it is impossible from our usual mental starting point. But this is a Course in miracles! This change of mind is very, very real. It isn't a simple change in our behavior. A miracle does not mean:

  • Pretending you don't feel attacked, or unfairly treated, or hurt. That is just denial.
  • Trying to see it differently, trying to figure out how to forgive truly.
  • Feeling guilty because you still see attack or sin as real.

The miracle is about really seeing things differently! Really perceiving, at the gut level, that attack isn't real attack, unfair treatment isn't real unfair treatment, and pain isn't real pain. It is about experiencing this so that you know it, not just getting the concepts. Instead of seeing the other person as guilty in any way, you see them as the innocent, holy Son of God. You cannot do this by yourself. You can't work this up on your own; you must call upon the help of the Holy Spirit.

And yet Jesus says "The way to do this is very simple" (T-12.I.1:1). It's simple because you don't have to do anything; rather, you just stop doing something. Let me explain what I mean.

For a moment, presume that the Course is absolutely true, and that sin and attack simply do not exist. None of it is real. You, along with everyone else, are still as sinless as the day God created you, and everything that looks like sin is an illusion. Just presume for a moment that you fully accept this as fact.

Now, if error is not real, imagine what you need to do to come to believe that error is real. You would have to do something to make it real to you (1:2). On the other hand, you don't have to do anything to believe in truth (1:3). What's real is real, and believing in it takes no effort.

Therefore, to experience truth and not make error real—to forgive as the Course teaches it, which means to see there is no sin to forgive—all you have to do is…nothing.

What's easier than nothing?

You are currently making error real all the time. By definition, all errors are not real; therefore, you must be doing something to make them real in your thinking. So all you need is to stop doing that. You don't have to do anything more, just cease doing what you are now doing. This is why you need to look at your ego honestly. You have to see what you are always doing in order to know you are doing it, and to stop it.

"You do not respond to anything directly, but to your interpretation of it" (T-12.I.1:4). It is not what your brother or sister does that makes you experience attack, or blame, or pain, or loss. It is your interpretation of what they do. You don't get angry at a fact; you get angry at your interpretation of the facts (M-17:4:1-3). Negative emotions arise from negative interpretations.

Therefore, in simple terms: Stop paying attention to your interpretation of things, and let the Holy Spirit give you another interpretation.

When you think that you understand what things mean, you are making a big mistake (T-11.VIII.2:3). Jesus says that believing you've properly analyzed someone's ego motivation is more than a mistake—it's dangerous (T-12.I.1:6). It not only wrongs the other person, it hurts you as well.

It hurts you to trust your analysis of another's ego because it causes you to lose touch with reality! (T-12.I.1:8). You are reacting to something that isn't there; you are delusional. Think about this the next time you believe someone is attacking you or betraying you. Judging others sets you up for disaster and exhausts your energy defending yourself against imagined threats.

When someone around you "makes a mistake" and listens to his or her own ego, it need not have power over you unless you give it power. You give it power by trying to interpret it. You set up your interpretation and think it is real, and the interpretation blocks the truth from your sight. The truth is what the Holy Spirit sees; it is the reality of the person as God's creation: their innocence and loveliness. Your interpretations, in which error is real, keep you from seeing that truth. So all you need to do to see the truth is to stop paying attention to your own interpretations and to ask the Holy Spirit to give you His interpretation.

Admittedly, we find it hard to do that. We've become so used to accepting our interpretations as facts that it seldom occurs to us to challenge them. That, however, is exactly what we must do if we are to break free from our imprisoning patterns of thought.

When we notice that we are perceiving error in someone, let us remind ourselves that our perceptions are not the truth, and that we do not know what anyone's actions mean, nor why they do them. And let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the situation differently. Gradually, that kind of practice will help us to see people increasingly as God's holy creations.

2 Comments

  1. Michael Tyree
    Posted December 30, 2013 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    This article really helped me understand “making error real.” Thank you.

  2. Christine Crescenzi
    Posted April 7, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Very timely reading for me. Just had a colossal example of assigning reality to a perceived error, so the article juxtaposed to the event made what I was doing very evident. Thank you for writing it Allen and for the Circle posting it again to benefit and broaden the textbook classes comprehension of the concept. Thank you so much for shortening the pain I had been feeling.
    Luv Chris

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