Early in a Talk on the Bhagavat Gita (available on Spotify), Swamiji Sarvapriyananda leads the audience in a chant of the thirteenth verse in Chapter 2. Midway through the verse, he says, “Actually, that is wrong” — and proceeds to re-chant the line.
This is a world renowned Teacher, a scholar-monk held in the highest esteem by many many, whose knowledge and clarity of thinking are exceptional. He makes an error in public, and without any trace of irritation, guilt, annoyance, embarrassment — calmly corrects. As much as one learns from his expositions of various profound topics, this particular incident (among many others) teaches volumes.
Can we make mistakes, and correct ourselves with kindness? Can we, in our relationships with others, encourage corrections with warm-heartedness?
The Rabbi Zelig Pliskin writes in “Kindness: Changing People’s Lives for the Better” that though “It is an act of kindness to point out mistakes so they can be corrected,” it is important to keep in mind that “When someone makes a mistake, he is vulnerable.”
The Rabbi offers practical advice: “Correct others the way you want to be corrected: with sensitivity. Both the tone of your voice and and the content of what you say should be as pleasant as possible.”
He then adds this gem: “If you attack the intelligence, skill, or caring of someone who made a mistake, you cause that person unnecessary distress. Such an approach is as big a mistake as the mistake of the person you seek to correct.”
Kristin Neff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin writes in an essay titled “Does Self-Compassion Mean Letting Yourself Off the Hook?” that this approach is not a way to “blow off personal responsibility for….actions.” Rather, it is a way to ” do what’s needed to make things better” without getting “punitive and rebuking” — both of which cause more suffering.