Monday, April 4, 2016


A number of years ago I was giving a talk on the Baha’i Faith during which I said how wonderful it was that the Bab declared His mission on the first day of spring back in 1844. I talked about the wonderful coincidence of it and how it was so symbolic.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. He hadn’t done that on that date. He had actually declared His mission months later on 23 May. I was a bit embarrassed about that mistake when I learned of it later, but felt like I had learned an important lesson in both humility and courtesy. I had to be humble and accept I had been wrong about that one fact. But I was also very impressed with the courtesy of the friends there who obviously knew my error, and refrained from saying anything. I mean, they could have corrected me later, but I’m grateful that they didn’t correct me at the moment.

That lesson, though, has stuck with me and led me to a question: Why is it that we feel the need to correct someone when we believe something different than what they say?

Recently, my son was saying a prayer, and in the middle of the prayer was the word “Sinai”. He pronounced it “sih-nie”, and someone else in the room “corrected” him, saying it was “sie-nie”. In the middle of his prayer. While he was praying. When he was finished, I told him that he hadn’t actually mis-pronounced it. His pronunciation was perfectly acceptable, just different from hers. Well, this friend proceeded to tell me that I was wrong, and that she knew how it was pronounced. Ignoring this, I told him about how different people have different accents, and that neither pronunciation is wrong. Both are correct. And, in fact, if you look at the word, you will see that the first syllable has a different spelling than the second, indicating that they might not be pronounced the same way. But the pronunciation depends on your particular accent.

Look at the spelling of some common words: Colour? Color? Neighbour? Neighbor? Again, both are fine. They are acceptable versions of the same words. It merely depends on where you grew up, where you live, as to which is considered correct. Just because one is correct, that doesn’t mean the other is wrong.

Just the other day I had someone “correct” me when I referred to a “tepee”. She said that if I was going to interact with it, I should learn how to spell it, “tipi”. What would be the intent of that? My first reaction was quite unhealthy and could have led me not write anything about that culture again. But really, that would have been childish on my part, and not worthy of that culture I so dearly love. Instead, I pointed out that there are 3 acceptable spellings of the word, and that I was using the one most common where I live. It did remind me, though, of how damaging “correcting” someone can be. After all, wouldn’t it be sad if our attempt at “correcting” someone led them to turn away from that which we love?

Perfection and excellence are good things, but courtesy is also important.

While meditating on this, I was reminded of a strange passage from Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. There, on page 8, He is talking about Noah, and says, “...there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers.” Why is He obscure about this, quoting two different numbers? Surely He could’ve told us the correct number, or not even mentioned a number at all. But He didn’t. He wrote both numbers. Why? Well, I’m not actually sure, but I suspect it is because He is quoting two different traditions, and doesn’t want to show preference between them. Perhaps He is saying that it is irrelevant which number we believe. And that, to me, is a worthy and important lesson.

When listening to someone else, or reading what they are writing, I often find that they say something I disagree with. But perhaps I can learn from this. Instead of presuming that I am correct, and that they must be wrong, maybe I should, instead, presume that they are right. Or maybe that we both are.

After all, how different would our interactions be if we always presumed that the other was correct, even if we are certain about our own knowledge? For like pronunciation, or spelling, there may be more than one form of what is correct.