One of my greatest challenges in my own life has been admitting to intellectual errors. “I don’t know,” “I made a mistake,” and “I was wrong about that,” have always stuck in my throat, but since becoming a mother I’ve struggled to make them part of my vocabulary (it’s so painful!) How else to reassure my daughter that her many mistakes along the path of acquiring a new language and alphabet are not just forgivable, but normal? This is a personal courage challenge I am constantly working at – to notice my mistakes, forgive myself, and move on, and to let my daughter see me do this. There is nothing to be gained by stubbornly clinging to an idea or answer or plan of action simply because we can’t admit we’ve made a mistake.
Here is a famous Zen story about intellectual courage, the ability to own our mistakes and change course.
One day a samurai visited the great Zen teacher, Haku-in. “My question is this: does paradise exist? Does hell exist?” asked the warrior.
Haku-in looked him up and down. “Who wants to know?” he said in a bored voice.
The samurai glared, very indignant. “I am a samurai! I protect the Shogun.”
“Really? You don’t seem that impressive, frankly.”
“What?” The warrior unsheathed his sword. “How dare you insult me!”
Haku-in glanced at the sword. “I doubt you can slice a melon with that, let alone cut off my head.”
With a cry of fury, the samurai raised the blade high.
“Behold! The gate of hell is opened,” Haku-in said.
In that moment, the warrior recognized the lesson the brave master was teaching, and replaced his sword in its scabbard.
“Behold, “ said Haku-in. “Now opens the gate to paradise.”