Being(s) of Service & the Right to be Wrong

In the interests of transparency, I want to utter a word or three about being of service. This expression, “being of service” has gotten fairly popular in the circles I move in, so it seems worthwhile to throw my hat into the discussion.

For starters, I do not think that being of service to another person means helping, rescuing, or fixing – as such.

These 3 words all imply some kind of agenda, expectation, or attachment to outcome; and they also imply that I can do something for someone that they can’t do for themselves. In turn, agendas, expectations, and attachments to outcomes have a knack for closing doors that I want to have the option of stepping through with a client.

Too, sometimes being of service means knowing something, and just holding the awareness of that knowing – without offering advice, telling my story, etc.

Being of service can also mean holding the space and being a witness for someone as they get clear about where they are – and why they think they’ve arrived there.

My approach to being of service certainly involves listening to what’s not being said: listening energetically to what our spirits are saying through our emotions; and looking through the mask of the ego to help illuminate, with my attention, the higher awareness behind the ego.

Perhaps most importantly, though, I think that being of service involves moving out of limited concepts of “right” and “wrong”, and coming into the present moment to see what it’s offering us. Because sometimes, there can be immense perfection in ‘being wrong’.

If we tune into the feeling of unquiet inside us that ‘being wrong’ always stirs up, we will realize we possess a tool for helping us do it differently in the future – because that feeling of unquiet is a powerful resource for determining what will and will not serve us as we move forward.

Yup. I’m suggesting that we embrace ‘getting it wrong’.

Perhaps even more radically, I want to propose that – if we take something forward with us after examining how ‘being wrong’ has the potential to offer us insight, confidence, and wisdom – maybe we didn’t really get it wrong at all. Maybe we created exactly the circumstances we needed in order to expand our awareness, refine our choices, and move into closer alignment with who we say we want to be in the world.

So why do we fear ‘being wrong’?

In his near-legendary Ted talks, Sir Ken Robinson talks about how schools condition children to fear getting the wrong answer – and how this is completely contrary to a child’s natural inclination to problem-solve, persist, and find novel approaches, interpretations, and meaning in their experience of the world.

Indeed, our schools are increasingly pressured by various levels of government to offer standardized, pre-determined, freeze-dried curricula – all so students’ rightness or wrongness can be assessed via exams. This is just one example of how, as a culture, we’ve institutionalized the aversion to ‘being wrong’.

Kathryn Schultz also takes up this notion in her fabulous TED lecture, “On Being Wrong“. I particularly love her assertion that,

“The miracle of your mind isn’t that  you can see the world as it is – but that you can see the world as it isn’t”.

In other words, our capacity to get it wrong, to see it differently than others, isn’t something we should try to downplay. She argues that the capacity to make mistakes is a source of continual astonishment, creativity, innovation, and, yes, even delight – because “it’s how we rediscover wonder“.

In spite of this, however, because most of us have been conditioned to avoid being ‘wrong’, we tend to become incredibly uncomfortable when we make a mistake. This feeling of intense discomfort signals that the ego is interpreting the situation as a threat to its existence.

Oh, the ego and its need to be right!

The ego loves to make others wrong to affirm its petty superiority complex. Which means that, when we entertain the notion that we have made an error (or that someone has committed an error at our expense), the ego’s self-defense mechanisms come online with a vengeance!

It seems to me that this is one of the most corrosive and destructive barriers to authentic, human connection: the often debilitating shame, remorse, guilt, or defensiveness that arises in us in response to human mistakes can stop us from moving forward – and presents an obstacle to meaningful accountability, if this is required.

But…what would happen if we embraced our mistakes?

How different would we feel in our lives if we tenderly regarded ourselves – and our mistakes – with a view to excavating valuable knowledge of where we stepped away from who we want to be in the world?

How much easier would it be to make heartfelt amends if we weren’t choking on our discomfort about having been ‘wrong’ in the first place?

What would happen if I asserted that I have a right to be wrong, sometimes?

If we gave ourselves just a bit of permission to sometimes step on toes, misunderstand, act out, or just plain get it all ass-backwards…how much time, bad feeling, conflict, guilt, and defensiveness could we spare ourselves and others? Well, for starters, we could redirect all that energy to figuring out what our mistakes can teach us!

Now, I’m not proposing that we deliberately bulldoze our way through conversations or use other people as guinea pigs while we figure ourselves out.

No.

But I am suggesting we extend ourselves some pre-emptive forgiveness for the mistakes we will inevitably make in life. Then maybe we’ll have room to ask better questions of ourselves when we reflect on our errors in judgement, missteps, and faux-pas.

Here’s some examples of questions I ask myself and my clients when walking through the process of reflecting on mistakes:

  • Did I tune into my feelings just before I made that choice?
  • Was my spidey-sense tingling – but I ignored it when I opened my mouth to speak?
  • How did my body feel just before, during, and after I acted or spoke? Was there tension in my body?
  • Was I speaking from my heart, or was my ego in the driver’s seat?
  • Was I somehow performing a role (e.g. the guru, the enlightened one, the healer, the teacher, the parent, the helpful friend, etc.) – instead of authentically responding to what the moment was calling forth from me?
  • Was I paying attention to all the circumstances – not just the ones my ego was highlighting in its never-ending quest to be right and make others wrong?

By focusing on what our mistakes can teach us, I help clients who are grappling with a heavy burden of guilt or remorse about who they’ve been, what they’ve done, etc. And by helping them to step away from suffocating concepts of ‘right vs wrong’, I can redirect their attention to what their higher awareness has to say about it all.

Here’s why this is important:

Awareness does not judge. It rests, patient and accepting, in the warmth of our grace.

In other words, awareness affirms our always-already, connected humanity – our fundamentally entangled, co-existence with All That Is. From this perspective, ultimately, my brother’s mistakes belong to me, and mine to him.

But here’s what’s really cool about avoiding the quicksand of right vs. wrong: if we can be more generous and forgiving of ourselves…are we then also be able to be more forgiving of others’ mistakes?

You betcha!

And guess what? By bringing this radically, pro-active forgiveness (of ourselves and others) with us, we’re being of service, just by bringing this awareness along with us wherever we go.

And then? Then we are doing more than ‘being of service’ in reaction to certain people and situations. By interacting from a place of already-forgiving awareness, we create an immense space for everyone to get it right.

This is when we become beings of service!

 

 

 

 

 

4 Responses to “Being(s) of Service & the Right to be Wrong”

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  1. Lee Hager says:

    Erin,
    A beautifully written article containing a message that would be of benefit to everyone. Being able to say “I don’t know” or “opps!” without feeling less than, are acts of courage in this world, but shouldn’t be. When we can get to that point, our life changes dramatically. I taught art at a large university for a short time. Since it’s a creative process, I assumed there was no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ involved. The school did not agree. Since I was teaching basic color and design skills, I would allow my students to do an assignment as many times as they liked until they felt they had mastered the concept. This resulted in an enthusiastic classroom where real learning could take place and most of the class received high grades (don’t get me started on the negative aspect of grading). This was also unacceptable to the university since they prided themselves on ruthless competition that would produce a few academic ‘stars.’ Of course no one really cared about the students that fell by the wayside. Loving, supporting and cooperating with one another to lift everyone up would produce such a different world then competing and attacking do. Hopefully articles like yours will help open a few eyes to that fact. Also, thank you for your kind and generous retweets on Twitter!
    Love,
    Lee

    • Erin says:

      Dearest Lee,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! They resonate so much! I taught over 7 years of undergraduate sociologists and encountered similar institutional nonsense re: mentoring all students to excel. The aggressive indifference universities have toward their students is what made me finally surrender the notion of a tenure-track career as a professor. Though I love teaching more than anything, it is the wrong type of classroom for me. Moreover, I can teach (and learn) in other milieux!
      Again, my thanks for the thoughtful, encouraging engagement.
      Always in love,
      Erin

  2. DK Brainard says:

    Hey Erin,

    Great post! I met this guy when I was 20 years old doing a journalism internship in Washington, DC. I had traveled a little bit before then but had never lived in a big cosmopolitan city before and I was kind of awestruck. Like most people my age – and, sadly, many years older – I tried to act like I was in the know. People would mention a book or a band or a meal and I’d nod my head and hope they didn’t ask for my opinion.

    But this dude Britt, if he didn’t know about something, would just say, “What’s that?” Sometimes people would sneer at him for his lack of being “inside” to the knowledge (mostly other 20-somethings). But he didn’t let it bother him. He was curious about the world and he wasn’t going to learn anything new by pretending to know what he didn’t know.

    I lost track of Britt soon after the internship ended but I’ve endeavored to live up to his example. The freedom of Beginner’s Mind is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

    Thanks for sharing that so eloquently,
    DK

    • Erin says:

      Hey Doc,

      So lovely to hear from you! I am sending you big, squishy hugs from here in Toronto. I love the phrase Beginner’s Mind. So beautiful! Thank goodness for role models like Britt – they really do offer us an example that suggests not-knowing doesn’t have to hurt.
      Much love to you!
      Erin

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