Monday, June 14, 2021

Ancient Teachings on How to Deal With Your Mistakes

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Today, there are numerous psychologists and specialists coming up with various methods to correct the mistakes we make in our live. While some of these suggestions might be useful, some can be downright useless. However, you should not limit yourself to modern solutions alone. The wisdom of ancient civilizations might also be able to guide you on such issues.


The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said: “If you know that you made a mistake and you don’t correct it, that’s truly a mistake.” His view hits the nail on the head. After all, as human beings, we are prone to make mistakes every now and then. It is a normal part of life.

However, if a person keeps making those same mistakes over and over again without ever correcting them, that is usually a sign of stubbornness and unwillingness to change even though the behavior keeps ruining that person. So what do we do about our mistakes? Let’s learn from Taizhong, the emperor from the Tang Dynasty who was well-known for correcting his mistakes as soon as he knew about them.

Statue of a Chinese warrior in a courtyard.
Learn from Emperor Taizhong of the Tang Dynasty and correct your mistakes as soon as you learn about them. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Taizhong used to say: “If you take a human being as a mirror, you’ll learn loss and gain.” What this means is that you should take the behavior and words of other people as a reference to compare with yours so that you can identify whether you are doing something right or wrong. If other people’s ideas are not worthy, discard them. But if you do find viable ideas from others, accept them wholeheartedly and implement them in your life.

Lu Jiuyuan, a thinker from the Song Dynasty, advises people never to cover up their mistakes when they learn about them. Instead, they should fearlessly correct them. Yan Yuan from the Qing Dynasty reminds people that the very concept of improving one’s character involves correcting one’s mistakes. As such, a person who is unwilling to acknowledge and correct their mistakes is someone who is doomed to live with his flawed character and the consequences it brings.


Sometimes, people commit mistakes by having preconceived notions. The Greek mythological story about Procrustes warns us about this very problem. Procrustes was a person who used to live between Eleusis and Athens. When he came across any traveler, Procrustes would invite them in, providing food and shelter.

However, if he found that the traveler was too short and did not fit his bed, Procrustes would take a hammer and smash the traveler’s legs until they were stretched out to match the length of the bed. And if the traveler had legs longer than the bed? Procrustes would amputate the “extra” length. Whether the traveler was short or tall, he would inevitably end up dead upon entering Procrustes’ home.

Statues of ancient Greek women.
In Greek mythology, Procrustes insisted that travelers enjoying his hospitality should fit his bed exactly. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Many of us are like Procrustes, committing mistakes by trying to fit things according to our beliefs. So if you ever wonder why something is wrong, step back a bit and think whether you are looking at it with preconceived notions. If so, remove the notions and assess a matter just as it is. You might discover that the problem might not even exist!


Now, what do you do when you actually make a grave mistake and are morally worried about it? Hindu texts mention a concept called “Prayascitta,” which translates into English as penance. Most of the prominent texts focus on the intent and thought behind the mistake — whether it was intentional or unintentional. If your mind is troubled by the error committed, the texts mention several ways to atone for it, including donating to the poor and needy, going on a pilgrimage to holy places, living an ascetic life for some time so that your senses are brought under control, and so on. After doing such activities, not only will you feel relieved, you will also be more alert to never commit such grave mistakes again.

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Nspirement Staff
Nspirement (or Inspirement) is the act of becoming motivated, encouraged, and enthused to the point of making a significant difference or change. Our aim is to offer articles that will inspire, uplift, and educate our readers, as well as insights into all things China and China’s impact on the world today.

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