research on the nature of error processing may shed light on how we
learn from our own mistakes and those of others. In a study conducted
at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, Professor Hein van
Schie and several colleagues asked sixteen volunteers to complete a
specific computer task, and also to observe while their fellow volunteers
completed the same task.
volunteers were told that they had made an error, a measurable signal
was noted to arise from a certain area of their brains in response to
realizing their mistakes. What was surprising was that this same electrical
signal also arose in the brains of volunteers who simply observed as
other participants made mistakes.
researchers concluded, "Similar neural mechanisms are involved
in monitoring [both] one's own actions and the actions of others."
we interpret these findings? One review stated, "Missing a turnoff
when driving is an annoyance, but for some of us, it's just as irritating
to be stuck in the passenger seat watching the driver make a mistake."
Another posed the question, "Why is it so annoying to watch someone
else make a mistake? Maybe because it affects the same areas of the
brain as when a person makes his or her own mistake." Thus it seems
that humans can be bothered by errors made by anyone in their environment.
mistakes may offer us opportunities for learning instead of simply being
irritating, but what are the necessary conditions that make errors act
as "teachers"? Perhaps a basic requirement is one's conscious
intent to learn. In other words, we may need to be open to or even invite
the opportunity to gain knowledge from such experiences, and this openness
goes hand-in-hand with at least some degree of humility. For if we are
too proud, how can we realize that any aspect of ourselves still needs
to be improved?
should not be confused with self-criticism or guilt. Being humble creates
true opportunities for growth whereas being self-critical can drag us
down. Taking Master's words and actions as examples, we can see that
She shows great compassion and humility in dealing with our human limitations,
but never recommends indulging in self-criticism. For example, Her responses
to questioners consistently minimize the negative and highlight the
positive in people's behavior. Knowing that we have not yet fully realized
our divine Self, She always tries to help us break through our fears
and doubts so that we feel more elevated and free.
regard, Master has said, "We make ourselves suffer because we identify
ourselves with our mistakes, our successes, our failures and the circumstances
that affect us," implying that the "I" who made the mistake
is not the same as the true Self. So, rather than identifying with the
human aspects of our mistakes, we should forgive ourselves, resolve
to try harder and keep moving forward.
this is where the errors of those around us can be most helpful in enhancing
our growth. If we truly wish to better ourselves, learning from others'
erroneous actions can be a powerful stimulant to spiritual progress.
In fact, Master has provided many commentaries on this topic disguised
as entertaining stories. One such case is "The Monkey Monk"
from the collection Master Tells Stories. This brief tale involves a
monk who criticized another by calling him a monkey. However, since
the "monkey monk" had already attained a high level of sainthood,
the more ordinary monk had to pay off the karma for his action by being
born as a monkey for the next five hundred lifetimes.
talks are full of other such examples of alertness to others' mistakes
as well. Moreover, She emphasizes that we can use our own inner wisdom
to "make lemonade out of lemons"; that is, we can turn the
errors of others into positive learning opportunities for ourselves.
when we encounter unfair treatment in the workplace, we may at first
be tempted to feel angry or hurt. But on further examination, we might
realize that this negative situation is actually a positive experience:
What if the seemingly undue treatment is the result of karma? Perhaps
we treated someone similarly in the past. So now we have to undergo
retribution to understand how it feels, and thus gain more compassion
for others' feelings.
mistakes of any kind provide us with opportunities to learn, break through
habitual responses, and thus more quickly realize our true Self. And
if, as the above-mentioned study suggests, our own brains produce electrical
signals when we realize our own or others' errors, then the key word
truly is "realize." Realizing mistakes can help us realize
God. Meanwhile, we need not be discouraged by anything "negative"
we see either in ourselves or others. For we are never alone: Each of
our steps, sincerely taken, will always be met by one hundred of the
further information on the research discussed above, please refer to: