How to not make error real (December 15, 2010)

There is a very profound teaching in A Course in Miracles about not making our brother’s errors real. The Course says that this is actually how we forgive—something that should make us sit up and take notice. But how do we not make someone’s errors real? What does that mean? I’ve just spent some time gathering quotes about this idea and a clear and practical picture emerges.

First, an error here refers to some form of attack by another’s ego, some kind of lovelessness, some attempt to gain from the loss of another. That attack can be behavioral or can merely be an “attack thought.”

Second, to make someone’s error real means to to regard it as having real effects. It really injures someone else and so really taints the identity of the one whose error it is. The Course teaches that neither of these things are true. “What has no effect does not exist, and to the Holy Spirit the effects of error are nonexistent” (T‑9.IV.5:5). Since error has no real effects, and since “‘what has no effect does not exist,” error itself does not exist. It is not real. Thus, to see it as real, we have to make it real: “If you want to believe in error, you would have to make it real because it is not true” (T-12.I.1:2)

How do we make another’s error real? Here the Course has a lot to say. Let me list the various ways in which, according to the Course, we make our brothers’ errors real. There are so many, in fact, that I’ll categorize them:

Placing your attention on error

  • “See error clearly” (T‑9.IV.4:4)
  • “Attend to” errors (T 9.III.4:2)
  • “Dwell on” his “sins” (W‑pI.134.15:2)
  • “Let your perception rest upon” error (T‑9.IV.1:3)
  • “Focus on your brother’s sins” (W‑pI.181.2:5)
  • Let “mistakes loom large and grow and swell within” your sight (S-2.I.2:3)

Interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating error

  • “Interpret error” (T‑12.I.1:8)
  • “Analyzing the motives” behind errors (T-12.I.1:6)
  • “Attempt to understand” error (T‑9.III.3:3)
  • “Judge” [error] (T‑9.III.3:4)
  • “Evaluate the errors that [forgiveness] wants to overlook. (S-2.III.1:3)

Trying to actively point out, correct, and oppose error

  • “Point out the errors” (T‑9.III.3:1)
  • “Point out errors and ‘correct’ them” (T‑9.III.2:1)
  • “Itemiz[ing] errors” (T-6.V.4:1)
  • Argue with the person about his error, attack it, try to demonstrate its falsity (M‑18.1:2)
  • “A quick response of opposition” to error (T-12.III.2:3)
  • “Insist on refusing” a brother’s outrageous request (T-12.III.2:3)

Looking for error

  • “Alertness…to the errors of other egos” (also called “vigilance”) (T-9.III.1:1)
  • “Seek and find and ‘love’” sins and crimes (S-2.I.2:2)
  • Hungrily search for, pounce on, and devour evidence of guilt (T‑19.IV(A).12:5‑7)
  • “Carefully pick[ing] out all evil things” (S-2.I.2:4)

Reacting to error

  • “React to [errors] as if they were real” (T-9.III.6:7)
  • “React at all to errors” (T‑9.III.4:1)

Overall

  • Give effects to mistakes; i.e., see them as having effects (T-30.VI.10:2) 
  • “Let any belief in [the error’s] realness enter your mind” (T-9.IV.5:4)

If we don’t do all these things—if we don’t place our attention on our brother’s errors, try to interpret and evaluate them, try to point out, correct, and oppose them, actively look for them, and react to them—then we will not make them real. We will instead overlook them. We will forgive them.

What do we look upon instead? What do we focus on? The Course consistently emphasizes two things: We focus on our brother’s loving expressions and on his true Identity.

Does this mean that we can’t ever point out or correct someone’s errors? Does it mean we can’t in any way attend to them, can’t even notice they are there? Greg has written an excellent article addressing this very issue, which I highly recommend reading. I’ll give two brief answers here.

First, there are times when we are called to correct a brother, for that person’s forward progress, not for our ego’s convenience. But even while we do that, we need to keep firmly in mind that the error in question is an illusion, is not who this person really is. Guidance that Helen Schucman received on psychological testing (aimed at identifying a “thought disorder” in someone) is very instructive here: “The only way that you can experience any peace while this unfortunate necessity for interpreting illusions remains is to recognize that you are discussing only illusions, and that this has no real meaning at all.”

Second, when we are not called to act on behalf of our brother in this way, it’s not that we do not see that an error is there, it’s that we do not regard it as real, and therefore do not consider it worth looking at. Instead, we look past it to the truth. If you were talking to someone and there was smoke in the air between you, would you spend all your time looking at the smoke? Of course not; all your effort would go into looking past it to the person. That is how the Course is urging us to treat errors. They’re just not worth looking at.

Anyway, this is obviously a huge topic, one whose details I cannot begin to address in this short piece. I just wanted to get some basics down on paper, as much for me as for you. After all, there could hardly be a more important topic, since this is how we forgive.

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