What should we do when we think someone else is coming from the ego?

Question: I have a Course friend who frequently points it out when he thinks I am coming from my ego. Is this something the Course recommends? What would the Course have us do when it appears to us that someone else is coming from the ego?

Short answer: This is definitely not something the Course recommends. What the Course would have us do is this: When it appears to us that our brothers are coming from the ego, we should not judge our brothers and attempt to "correct" their ego errors in our own way. Instead, we should accept the Holy Spirit's judgment of our brothers, and let Him guide our behavioral response to their ego errors.


The ultimate Course put-down: "You're coming from your ego!"

I think this question is a crucially important one to address, because it is my experience that we Course students have a great propensity for pointing out each other's egos. I have seen countless exchanges between Course students degenerate into this kind of ad hominem attack. It seems to me that "You're coming from your ego!" (or variations on the same basic theme, like "You're projecting!") has become the ultimate Course put-down, the Course student's equivalent of one born-again Christian saying to another, "The devil made you do it!"

I think it's no real surprise that we engage in this, given the Course's contention that all of us have such a strong investment in attack. Yet while it is not surprising, I think it is still very unfortunate. It is an attack, a weapon that is brandished whenever someone feels threatened by something another person is saying. I think that dropping the "You're coming from your ego!" bomb has torn asunder many potentially fulfilling relationships and scuttled many potentially fruitful dialogues among Course students. Thus, I think that finding an alternative to this approach has the potential to bring great benefit to all of us.

Fortunately, the Course itself speaks directly to this issue, and provides the alternative we need. It is my hope that we as Course students will learn to choose this alternative more frequently, and thus come to treat each other with greater love, kindness, courtesy, and respect. Now, let's take a closer look at what the Course would have us do when faced with our brothers' egos.

We should not judge our brothers and attempt to "correct" their ego errors in our own way. Instead, we should accept the Holy Spirit's judgment of our brothers, and let Him guide our behavioral response to their ego errors.

This, in a nutshell, is the counsel of four Course sections—T-9.III, T-12.I, M-17, and M-18—that speak directly to the topic of how to respond to other people's seeming ego errors. But before we look at those sections, let's consider for a moment our typical response when someone else makes what we consider to be an ego error. Since all of us have egos ourselves, most of the time we immediately go into attack mode. First comes our mental response: We judge the error, get angry about it, and mentally condemn the other person for making it. This is often followed by a behavioral response: We attempt to correct the other's error by pointing it out and trying to convince her that she's wrong. Though all of this is really an attack, we who identify with the ego think we are actually doing this person a big favor by showing her the error of her ways: "To the ego it is kind and right and good to point out errors and 'correct' them" (T-9.III.2:1).

To put it bluntly, the Course considers this to be a profoundly wrong-minded approach to ego errors. This point is made loud and clear in the four Course sections I mentioned above. All of them tell us clearly both what we should not do and what we should do in response to our brothers' errors. The following is my summary of the counsel offered by these sections (I highly recommend reading all of them in their entirety):

T-9.III, "The Correction of Error," addresses the question of what we should do when it seems to us that a brother is making an ego-based error. What we should not do is focus on the error, point it out, and attempt to correct it: "The alertness of the ego to the errors of other egos is not the kind of vigilance the Holy Spirit would have you maintain" (T-9.III.1:1). We shouldn't do this because rather than truly correcting our brother, this will actually reinforce the seeming reality of both his errors and our own: "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; see also T-9.III.5:2). What we should do is give all of our brother's errors to the Holy Spirit for correction (T-9.III.5:3). We should look past his errors to the truth of who he really is: "When a brother behaves insanely, you can heal him only by perceiving the sanity in him" (T-9.III.5:1). This perception, the Holy Spirit's perception, truly corrects both our brother's errors and our own (T-9.III.7:4).

T-12.I, "The Judgment of the Holy Spirit," addresses the question of what we should do when it seems to us that a brother's actions are motivated by the ego. What we should not do is decide for ourselves what our brother's motivation is: "Analyzing the motives of others is hazardous to you" (T-12.I.1:6). Nor should we try to "help" him in our own way (T-12.I.6:10). We shouldn't do this because this will actually reinforce the seeming reality of his errors (T-12.I.1:7-8). What we should do is accept the Holy Spirit's interpretation of our brother's motivation, an interpretation that sees everything he thinks, says, or does as either an expression of love or a call for help (T-12.I.3:1-4). We should respond to our brother's call for help by offering true, Holy Spirit-inspired help (T-12.I.3:5-6). Offering help to our brother is the way in which we ourselves receive the Holy Spirit's help: "Only by answering [your brother's] appeal can you be helped" (T-12.I.5:6).

M-17, and M-18 "How Do God's Teachers Deal with Magic Thoughts?" and "How Is Correction Made?", are companion sections that together address the question of what we, as teachers of God, should do when one of our pupils presents us with magic thoughts (ego thoughts that assert that a power other than God can save us). What we should not do is respond to magic thoughts with anger (M-18.2:1). Nor should we try to forcibly correct them (M-18.1:2). We shouldn't do these things because these things will actually reinforce the seeming reality of both the pupil's errors and our own: "If [a teacher] argues with his pupil about a magic thought, attacks it, tries to establish its error or demonstrate its falsity, he is but witnessing to its reality" (M-18.1:2; see also M-17.1:6). What we should do is let go of our angry, ego-based judgment of our pupil's magic thoughts (M-18.4:2). Then we should "turn within to [our] eternal Guide, and let Him judge what the response should be" (M-18.4:3). We should allow the Holy Spirit to respond to the pupil's magic thoughts through us (M-18.2:3); M-18.4:3). We should see such thoughts as calls for help, and respond with true, Holy Spirit-inspired help (M-17.3:5-7). Doing this will bring healing to our pupil and ourselves: "So is [the teacher] healed, and in his healing is his pupil healed with him" (M-18.4:4).

These sections give us an extremely consistent teaching on the issue of what to do when it appears to us that someone else is coming from the ego. None of them suggests that "You're coming from your ego!" is a helpful response. On the contrary, all of them say the same basic thing in different ways. What they say is this: We should not judge a brother's ego error, get angry about it, and try to correct it—our typical response—because all this does is make the error real in our minds and cement the ego more firmly into place. Instead, we should allow the Holy Spirit to reinterpret the error as a call for help, and then we should offer true help based on His guidance. This help could take many forms, I'm sure, but the key is that the inspiration for it comes from Him, not from the ego. Only in this way will we see beyond our brothers' errors to the truth of who they really are. Only in this way will their errors and our own be truly corrected.

Is it ever okay to correct a brother's errors?

This is a question that inevitably arises, given the Course's radical teaching on this issue. My short answer to this question is yes, there are times when correction of a brother's errors is warranted. I know this answer may seem surprising, in light of the material we've just covered. Yet I do think that there are times and situations when this is appropriate, if we are truly motivated by love and guided by the Holy Spirit (and that's a big "if"). I say this because Jesus himself clearly approves of certain exceptions to the "no correcting" rule, either explicitly by stating them in the Course material, or implicitly by engaging in them himself in the course of his own teaching.

What are some situations in which correcting a brother's errors may be appropriate? First, while I think "You're coming from your ego!" is virtually never helpful, clearly there are many everyday situations in which correcting a brother's errors in a loving way is helpful, and even expected. For instance, it can be a truly loving act for a teacher to kindly point out a student's mistakes as part of his learning process (as I do when I'm working as a tutor for an adult learning how to read and write). It would certainly be loving to point out to a driver that she's driving the wrong way down a one-way street, so she doesn't have an horrible accident. The Course itself gives us an example of loving correction when it speaks positively of correcting a child who mistakenly sees ordinary objects in his room at night as terrifying monsters (see T-11.VIII.13). In situations like these, correction is just common sense. I don't think Jesus expects us to take this idea of not correcting errors to the point of absurdity.

Second, I think it is certainly okay to correct a brother's errors when the correction is asked for. Even gently pointing out a person's ego thoughts can be appropriate when the other person welcomes it. Certainly Jesus did this all the time with Helen and Bill, and they did welcome it, even if it brought up resistance at times. To share a personal example of this, I have a standing agreement with my wife that she will remind me to do my Course practice whenever she notices that I'm angry. Because this is something I have asked for, I truly appreciate it when she does this.

The "asked for" category can also include relationships in which one person is mentoring another, such a spiritual teacher and her pupil or a psychotherapist and his patient. These are relationships in which one person has asked for another's expert help, and pointing out errors and ego patterns in a loving way is often a vital and welcome part of such relationships. It is worth noting that two sections after coming down so hard on pointing out errors in the "Correction of Error" section, Jesus acknowledges that in the context of a spiritual teaching or therapy relationship, "it may help someone to point out where he is heading" (T-9.V.7:2). Clearly, Jesus' caution against pointing out errors is not an absolute behavioral injunction.

Finally, I think it can sometimes be quite proper to correct other people's errors in the context of taking a stand for what we believe to be the truth. (This Q & A is an example of such a stand.) Taking a stand of any kind automatically implies that we believe those who disagree with us are in error, even if we don't overtly point this out. Taking a stand simply has to be permissible, because we literally can't help but stand for something, whatever it may be. Even to say that we should never correct errors is a stance that attempts to correct an error! Jesus himself often corrects other people's errors (like the errors of traditional Christianity and the errors of modern psychotherapy) as he presents his teaching in the Course. He has taken a firm stand for truth, and he calls on us to do the same in this world: "As you share my unwillingness to accept error in yourself and others, you must join the great crusade to correct it" (T-1.III.1:6). This passage refers to correcting error through extending miracles, but even this is a stand for truth which may well involve verbally pointing out errors at times.

While I do think that taking a stand for what we believe to be the truth is both desirable and inevitable, I would like to end this section with a few suggestions for how to do this in a truly loving way. First, I think it is wise to remain open-minded even as we take our stand; we may well be wrong, so we should always be open to other ways of seeing things. Second, as a general rule, I think we should make sure that our views are asked for, and not attempt to force them on others. While there may be times when we are truly called to offer unsolicited advice, for the most part people do not like to be preached to. Third, I want to make a heartfelt plea that as we Course students take our stands and discuss our ideas with others, we resist the temptation to accuse those who disagree with us of coming from their egos. Let's be charitable with one another, and not let character assassination get in the way of our common goal of finding the truth.

Finally, since the desire to point out errors does so often come from the ego, I would suggest that we think twice when the urge to do so arises. I've said that pointing out errors must be permissible at times because Jesus himself does it, but it is also true that we don't have the wisdom and clear perception that he does. Yes, there are times when pointing out our brothers' errors is appropriate, but I think that we should always do our utmost to make sure that this is truly motivated by love and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Our tendency to accuse each other of coming from the ego is unfortunate, but it is not a sin. It is simply a mistake that all of us who have egos tend to make, and as such, it is simply one more opportunity to practice forgiveness. Let us, then, choose to forgive instead of focusing on each other's egos. Let us choose to treat one another with love, kindness, courtesy, and respect instead of condemnation and attack. As we slowly but surely learn to do this, I think all of us will be much happier, our relationships will be much more fulfilling, and our dialogue with one another will be much more fruitful. In the spirit of true brotherhood, let us replace the curse of "You're coming from your ego!" with the blessing of "I see you as God's Son and my brother" (T-9.II.12:6).

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