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To Err is Human: YSP 1.8

viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham


Error is incorrect knowledge based on misinterpretation of reality.

Swami J translation


“Show me where I am wrong, for I have learned a thousand times more from error than I have from ever being right.”

These are words I live by. When I was working the 9-1-1 lines, I was always interpreting the information it came down the line. All the while there’d be this second voice running in the background that chirps “Where could you be wrong? Where is there room for error in this process?” — silent questions that clarify where the caller needs to be questioned more directly. I’m trying to narrow the margin for error as much as possible.

It’s something that I’ve done so much it’s become a mental habit and one I think I’ll keep because I’ve found it so instructive over the years. To me, the thinking/ learning process goes this way:

1. Perception. One of my senses makes information available to my brain for further interpretation. Immediately, we have room for error. My perspective may conceal other elements of information that have significant bearing on my eventual understanding. I can’t assume that the sensory inputs are the full and complete story because so often they aren’t.

2. Interpretation. My brain spends a lot of time trying to piece together these inputs and make some kind of coherent sense out of them. I can’t even list off the number of places this can go completely sideways because this is about my construction of reality based on the sketchy information I have from my senses. This is the place where it’s a really good idea to start flagging some of those potential errors because more likely than not, further information is going to be required.

3. Clarification. This is where those questions about potential place for error get narrowed down. Often if I’m taking information about a traffic accident, I ask about landmarks I think a person should be able to see. If they can’t see them, then maybe I’m not sure about the correctness of the location. It’s time to clarify.

4. Repetition. Often this process has to be continued until all the potential places for error have been narrowed as much as possible. I don’t think they’ll ever be completely closed because of all kinds of perceptual biases that creep into our sensory inputs. We often see what we expect to see. It’s how every magician on the planet earns his paycheque.

Once we understand and acknowledge (celebrate even) that we have so many places and ways to be wrong in our thinking and our understanding, it frees us up. We don’t have to get attached to our viewpoints or our narratives because there’s a good chance, they might be wrong. I live in culture where this notion that “error is instructive” isn’t very popular and I think that in itself causes a lot of difficulties. People can become so energetic about defending their position about something because they really don’t have the capacity to cope with being wrong. They see it as a failing, or shameful, or a weakness. They feel vulnerable if they’re in error and the longer this information has been held, the harder it is to change for a lot of people.

Personally, I have found error to be liberating. It narrows down the possible answers so long as I don’t get overly attached to them.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and Namaste,





About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

One response »

  1. hi
    Thank you for writing. During my final year at the university I had two “post it” signs on my computer (how is that for multimedia;-)” one said – “let me be wrong” and the other said “it’s allready done”. I’ve had such problems loving these two sentences, but I find them to really give peace and acceptance to me. (still having problems with being wrong;-) I soo pray at the alter of “being right” …) good weekend love jenni


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