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Sentence Sermons (Christian Inspiration) #78 --- Mistakes

Updated on April 3, 2011

Quotations on Mistakes

Readiness to admit being in the wrong is preferable to the "I-never-make-a-mistake" attitude. It is likewise in accord with Biblical admonitions as to confessing our faults. And a modern writer says, "An honest confession is good for the soul."

To acknowledge having acted foolishly is an unpleasant experience; yet no one should hesitate to acknowledge error of judgment. We all deviate from the line of common sense at times, and need to bear in mind the warning, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

A broadminded man does not hesitate to say he has blundered, and realizes that, in the course of human events, he will do so again; yet he keeps pushing ahead with the thought, "though I fall, I shall arise, for the Lord upholdeth me with His hand."

A narrowminded man, on the contrary, will not declare that he has mismanaged an undertaking, and is impatient at such suggestion. Applicable to him is the proverb, "A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him." (Proverbs 15:12.) He considers it beneath his dignity to apologize to one he may have treated unjustly, and illustrates the truth of the saying, "The way of the foolish is right in his own eyes." (Proverbs 12:15.)

These diverse dispositions met through intercourse with others are interesting as a study in contrasts. One is ready to profit by his blunders; the other learns not by experience--and remains an unimprovable egotist to the end of his days, heedless of the sound advice, "Forsake the foolish, and live, and go in the way of understanding." (Proverbs 9:6.)

—H.S. Jenison, Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 18, 1923.

A famous playwright met some friends just after the first performance of his new play was given a chilly reception by the first-night audience.

"How did your play go tonight?" one of them asked.

"Oh," he answered, "the play was a great success, but the audience was a failure."

It is natural for most of us to avoid admitting we may be wrong in our approach. We tend to blame others. We lost much if we do.

If we take an honest appraisal of why and how we make mistakes and then proceed to use what we have learned to prevent future ones, we gain much.

If we are to do effective work in the service of God, we must learn how to shoulder our responsibilities, and how honestly and fearlessly to face up to our mistakes and failures when we make them, and then to do all we can to right them. From every criticism, each of us can learn something, especially if it does not stop us, but helps to purify our intentions and stimulate us to greater courage.

"Who can say: My heart is clean, I am pure from sin?" (Proverbs 20:9.)

O Lord, teach us to see ourselves as Thou dost see us.

—James G. Keller, Houston Post, Houston, Texas, Jan. 3, 1954.

Mistakes are as fatal as crimes. Mistakes are as costly as sins. We are led astray through errors in judgment but God holds us responsible for our mistakes. God does not save us from the consequences but He educates us by them. Time will bring around the harvest of your acts. It is strange that men who have clear judgment on other things will be peculiarly muddy on spiritual truths. ..

Good intentions do not save us from the consequences of our acts. ...

We may err in judgment and repent and yet suffer the consequences of our acts. It is the inevitable law of God. We may err in judgment and throw ourselves off a cliff. Nature does not reverse her law of gravitation to protect us from harm. It is inevitable that if we break the law we must suffer the consequences.

—C.L. Rorabough, The Register and Leader, Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 14, 1911.

If we have made mistakes let us realize the fact and profit by them. One thing to avoid, however, is indulgence in morbid regret which is so devastating to the human soul. Mistakes should, if possible, be used as stepping stones upon which to rise or as fortification against future errors.

—Richard R. Lyman, Millennial Star, London, England, Dec. 31, 1936.

Our attitude toward mistakes can either strengthen or destroy us. Show me a man who never makes a mistake, who never ventures anything, who always plays it safe, who is so ultra conservative that he does only the accepted things, and I'll show you someone who does not fully understand the gospel of repentance and the nature of growth. There is nothing wrong or bad in making a mistake through lack of knowledge, lack of experience, lack of considered judgment, or even lack of so-called fundamentals of human relations. Mistakes are just steps in everybody's normal learning process. If we outlaw human error, if we demand human perfection on this earth, we must also reject progress both in ourselves and in others.

—Jerald R. Johansen, Impact, Provo, Utah, Summer 1969.

The greatest sin is not in the making of mistakes but the being satisfied with it.

—Henry F. Cope, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill., May 19, 1907.

We make mistakes and sometimes we try to correct them. A mistake recognized may be amended, but ignored becomes outright guilt and stands as a sin against the soul.

—A.J. Gearheard, The Shreveport Times, Shreveport, La., Jan. 10, 1926.

It is always easy to see other people's mistakes, even when we are confused about our own.

—Roy L. Smith, Christian Advocate, Chicago, Ill., Nov. 6, 1941.

The mistakes you make--

Constitute your apprenticeship to success.

May make a bigger contribution to your permanent success than your victories.

Can be made into stepping stones or stumbling blocks.

Are never fatal until they have robbed you of your courage.

Are most disastrous when they cost you self-respect.

Are sometimes the price we pay for careless preparation. Are always capable of teaching valuable lessons if you are wise enough.

—Roy L. Smith, Tampa Morning Tribune, Tampa, Fla., April 8, 1930.

The worst of all mistakes is to be unable to see our own mistakes.

—Roy L. Smith, Tampa Morning Tribune, Tampa, Fla., Nov. 25, 1940.

The secret of all progress is to make our mistakes serve a useful purpose.

—Roy L. Smith, Tampa Morning Tribune, Tampa, Fla., Nov. 28, 1940.

Just because you make a mistake is no reason why should advertise it to the cold and cruel world.

—Vernald William Johns, Garland Times, Garland, Utah, April 3, 1936.

When we make mistakes we call them "lapses;" while the mistakes other people make we call "sins."

—Bert Moses, Lake Charles American Press, Lake Charles, La., Feb. 25, 1943.

Hiding a mistake is about as bad as making it.

—Bert Moses, Lake Charles American Press, Lake Charles, La., Aug. 22, 1945.

When you make a mistake don't look back at it very long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind, and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed; the future is in your power.

—Hugh White, Sunshine Magazine, Litchfield, Ill., June 1941.

It's human to make mistakes. It's also human to try to alibi out of them.

—Carey Williams, Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont, Texas, April 5, 1958.

It is human to make mistakes and it is also human to try to place the blame on someone else.

—Carey Williams, Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont, Texas, Dec. 20, 1959.

The more one believes in the possibility of error, the surer he will be to avoid mistakes.

Autumn Leaves, Independence, Mo., March 1927.

Wise people are liable to make mistakes, but foolish people practice them.

The Gospel Observer, Ashland, Ky., Oct. 11, 1998.

The man who can acknowledge a mistake without blaming it on someone else has true moral courage.

Great Falls Tribune, Great Falls, Mont., Nov. 28, 1934.

Many make mistakes, few rise high enough to admit them and fewer still rise high enough to forgive them when acknowledged.

River Press, Fort Benton, Mont., April 22, 1936.

He who never changed any of his opinions never corrected any of his mistakes, and he who was never wise enough to find mistakes in himself, will not be charitable enough to excuse them in others.

Zion's Herald, Boston, Mass., Dec. 8, 1824.

Mistakes are often more humiliating than sins, yet to a certain extent they appear inevitable. It seems as possible to live without mistakes as it is to make a machine that will never break down or need repair. Yet as it is quite possible in machines to construct them so skillfully as to ward off any serious mishap, so it is possible to reduce the magnitude and frequency of our mistakes very greatly.

Passing over those mistakes that are by their nature unavoidable, and therefore hardly to be considered as mistakes, such as those which arise from unavoidable or excusable ignorance; from the necessary limitations of human nature; from unconscious bias received through education, inheritance or surroundings; from misinformation, inexperience, etc., we come to avoidable mistakes.

While in a general sense we may say that we inevitably commit some mistakes that need not have been committed, yet we must not rest too easily under this thought, for the very expression implies that care and vigilance and faithfulness would have sufficed to keep us from the mistake, had we been fully alive to the exigencies of the situation.

If the mistake arose from ignorance for which we were responsible, we might have taken pains to inform ourselves; if from carelessness, we might have been more careful.

Sometimes our mistakes are due to a fault in our characters, which we are unwilling to correct. This is the case when they arise from harboring of prejudices; from weak compliance with public opinion or fashion; from hasty judgments; love of popularity; habit of regarding questions only from one side; undue confidence or oversuspicion of others, etc. They may arise from what may even more distinctly be classed as a wrong spiritual condition, as when they spring from self-love, self-will, insistence that our way must be the Lord's way, allowing our feelings to be hurt, want of humility, or from love of gain, power or popularity, want of full heartfelt surrender to the Lord, want of trust in Him, want of love, want of quietness, etc.

If not unfrequently happens when we have made a mistake that was not itself a sin, that we can discover that it had its rise in some cause, allied at least to the ones just mentioned, and when this is the case we very properly feel condemned for the mistake. An error of judgment even may sometimes be really due to a want of proper Christian experience.

It should be our settled aim to avoid mistakes, as well as sins, though they are, of course, on a different moral basis, for a mistake, while much less injurious to the individual character, may outwardly produce as much harm as a sin. A colorblind driver, by mistaking a signal, may kill as many passengers as if he intended to kill them. His particular mistake was at the time he made it unavoidable, and he could not be charged with it, but there was an avoidable mistake made in his holding the position of a driver. ...

It is often said that if a man's intentions are good, that makes everything all right. It should cause us to have sympathy and kind judgment for the individual, but good intentions do not permit mistakes. Here is where many err. They think that to object to what a man says or does means to attack and to judge him. They say, "You have no right to speak against such an one, he is doing the best he can." ...

Very conscious of having made mistakes, avoidable as well as unavoidable, I feel a hesitation in saying much more on the subject. But I give what is on my mind. Let us start out with the hopeful thought that to a very large extent we can be delivered from mistakes--certainly from such as depend upon wrong moral or spiritual conditions.

Let us confess to ourselves and, where the case requires it, to others, where we have erred. At the same time let us not be discouraged by mistakes. We can by considering how we make them, avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. This is most important.

We can be charitable towards the mistakes of others. A spirit that judges others is a spirit of pride, and pride goes before a fall. This, as I have said, does not mean that we are not to judge as to whether the words and actions of another one are right or wrong. We may rightly condemn what is wrong, but be kindly disposed and humble to the wrong does, and, of course, careful how we pass censure at any time.

We can be open to criticism and ready to pay the same consideration to the remarks of others that we wish them to pay to our remarks.

We can walk in a spirit that does not take offense, and that, through the power of the Lord, bears all things. In short a great way to avoid mistakes is to walk humbly before the Lord in full surrender to Him, and in His spirit of helpfulness to others.

Following the Lord does not mean that we despise or overlook the ordinary laws of cause and effect, for a disregard of these brings trouble on the good and on the evil.

It is a good rule never to allow anything in ourselves, which should we hear of others doing, we should condemn.

We can be sure it is always safe to follow the Lord's law of righteousness at all times and under all circumstances. And we can live in a daily experience of seeking the fresh light on our path.

Even in those most trying of all mistakes, mistakes in guidance; when we have mistaken the Voice of the Lord in our hearts, we can with renewed humility and trust seek to walk still nearer to Him and by experience learn to know His will.

—Richard Henry Thomas, Friends' Review, Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 29, 1892.

I have a theory--and it is only part of a general theory of life--that a mistake is a near kin to virtue; that mistakes are life's golden opportunities; and that mistakes corrected are the rounds of ascent leading up out of a mere humanity to that mingling of human and Divine which is the capacity and the dower of our human nature. A stupid blunder, a dead fool's work, I do not mean, or a downright sinner's willful work. A mistake is better than that. It argues some manhood. A mistake is a wrong choice, as the analysis of the word shows. Wrong choice necessitates decision, and some prior reflection, and these are manly qualities, and germs of virtue. A blunder has none of these elements. It is too gross. It is only stupid. A sin is a deliberate choice, morally oblique. There is no moral obliquity in a mistake. It is a matter of judgment, not of ethics, a thing a man is perpetually liable to under any new, sudden combination of circumstances, a thing which may have a great variety, even disaster of consequence, and yet have no just place among, and should neither by the man himself or others be considered as of the number of moral obliquities. An honest, conscientious mistake is no sin, is a very dignified, honorable affair. It may be, it often is, the seed-corn of virtue.

We mistake in thinking so much of our mistakes themselves. We fret too much over them, not enough over our sins. Sins, vices, bad habits do not trouble us much. Mistakes do. We are more apt to be provoked and discouraged at the mistakes we make than the habits we form or the sins we commit. We feel shame and misery wholly out of proportion to the wrongdoing. And I judge our pride is concerned with this. We don't like to own up to a mistake even to ourselves. It is an imputation upon our wisdom, our prudence, our tact; it puts us down in the scale. We are not so master of the position as we have supposed, or desire others to think. To be mortified is one of our deepest sensations, and it follows and haunts us long, when some graver thing, some positive wrong is soon excused or forgotten. I think the little festering of a mistake is more irritant to our self-esteem than is a wrong deed to our conscience. Sins, vices, habits are things of our definite, deliberate preference and acceptance. Their commission is in accordance with our will. They do not trouble our self-love. But a mistake--an error in judgment or in conduct however trivial--why it is the silver at the quick of the nail. How it will dog us through the day; what a nightmare will it be in the night! How thought of it will drive the blood to our face, open the pores, and make us superbly uncomfortable! How it will burn in the consciousness and scourge us with the fear of other men's opinion. Sometimes we let a mistake become the pet plague of our lives. It stands back in unrelieved blackness, and we never look that way that we do not see it. It is the scapegoat of all after wrong, mishap and shortcoming. "But for that" is our constant sigh. I do not deny that mistakes may prove permanent disasters. I have known such, but as they had no evil purpose, were only mistakes, errors of judgment rather than of will, they ought not to have the tyrant and discomfiting power we allow them.

I don't believe a man is worth a fig who does not make mistakes. I don't agree with Lord Derby, who said of something that "it was worse than a sin, it was a mistake." A mistake has not the elements of which a sin is made. I have made mistakes in plenty, and if I am to get any more manhood except to make plenty more in the process. I do not believe any true, ripening life possible without them. They have given me a great deal too much annoyance, they will yet give me too much, but I believe they have helped me to most of the little wisdom and character I have got. Froude says, "Mistakes are often the best teachers of all." Most heartily I say Amen! to that. I know what they have taught me. They are better masters than many I went to school to. I remember their rod, not their lessons. Of these the rod is forgot, the teaching remains. A mistake is not so bad a thing. It has life in it if you have any manhood to meet it with. It is not a blot upon the escutcheon, but the sign of knighthood; it is not a thing to shadow life, but brighten it. I think one should take his mistakes easily and calmly, try to avoid making them, but neither be unhappy because nor brood over them, nor let them absorb the time and power he wants for something else. I think he should be brave enough to own them, to correct by them, and to profit by them; wise enough to feel that they are inevitable at some time, in some things unavoidable with all our foresight and wisdom; that they are attendants upon this state in which we dwell, intermediate of the brute and the full wisdom of God.

We make mistakes innumerable and keep making them. Life is a bundle of mistakes. One might well sit down beside his faggot in despair. But that were neither brave nor well. Carlyle says this wisely: "Neither let mistakes nor wrong directions, of which every man in his studies and elsewhere falls into many, discourage you. There is precious instruction to be got by finding we were wrong. Let a man try faithfully, manfully, to be right: he will grow daily more and more right. It is at bottom the erudition on which all men cultivate themselves. Our very walking is an incessant falling--a falling and catching of ourselves before we come actually to the pavement. It is emblematic of all that a man does."

That brave advice I would follow up by two words of direction. We have got to make mistakes. We may as well own up to the infirmity, and own up also to individual mistakes as they occur. It is not only braver to do so, but better. Let us accept them. The next thing will be, as mistakes, to forget them. ... I don't believe too much memory is healthy. The memory that depresses, that makes morbid, that does not spur to better doing, is only a harm. It can do no good. It had better be choked. The shroud of a quick wholesome oblivion is better than the wings of a merely irritating memory. The best thing to be done with a good deal of life is to forget it, to pass the sponge over tablets whose telltale is of so much it will do not good to keep in sight. ... Every conscientious person can decide what mistakes to forget, by watching the effect they produce, that which helps to live, let it remain, an influence invaluable, a guard and a guide; but that which makes peevish, morbid, and cowardly and bitter, away with it. Put a millstone about it and sink it in the uttermost part of the sea.

Then I should say--in Robertson's language--"Organize victory" out of your mistakes; make them an element in the after struggle of life. It must needs be that mistakes come; for 'no rectitude of intention will secure us from them;' and the high duty for us will be to weave them into the texture of life so that they become an element in its completeness, and not separate and broken strands of failure. Next to starting well I believe in starting ill, in being all wrong, in making a decided mistake at the start. Well used, rightly recovered from, carefully studied, it is about the best thing we can do. Many a man has been made by the mistake which would have unmade him had he not known how to organize victory out of it. One who had lived long and well told me he owed all to an early mistake, that it had made him a man, and whereas he might otherwise have floated along the current of life passably, he so learned how to bear difficulty, and make of the adversities friends, and of himself a man. In our national difficulty we owed success at last, under God, to one who had the wisdom and courage to organize victory out of mistakes, to seize the true base line and hold to it, till he compelled victory. We need in all character and life the true base line. If the first is a mistake, don't submit to it, don't mourn over it, but confess it and leave it, and search till you find the true one, and fight it out on that. ... Forget mistakes--or organize victory out of them!

The thing to do with mistakes, then, is to own them and then to forget them; drop them out of account, or set them at work for good. ... We grow ripe by mistakes. Let everything go right with us, and no sickly shoot of the cellar so sickly and fruitless, but let there be mistakes from time to time, grave mistakes even, and they will furnish the real man with the nutriment out of which the vigor of stalk and fruit grow. He is a puny man who, shields all life through by other men's flavoring fortune, never commits himself to, never is confronted or overcome by a mistake. The soul requires muscle, and its muscle comes, as that of arm, through training. Suppose the consequences of your mistake are irreparable, go into, change your life; suppose you can look back and see how an early mistake has turned the whole current of your being. What good will it do for you to lament it, what possible vitality in a regret? Water spilt upon the ground cannot be gathered again. There is no use in fretting over it. We do not get ahead so; but we do get ahead, when summoning every energy we brace ourselves to meet whatever disadvantage our own selves has brought upon us, cheerfully using the past for its experience and the present for its opportunity, trusting that the future shall show that ... our heavenly way shall be marked by mistakes that have culminated in victories.

—J.F.W. Ware, The Religious Magazine and Monthly Review, August 1870.

A mistake is the result of misjudgment. Misjudgments are risks we take in decision-making, and [we] make decisions every day. Some are major; some are minor. Some leaders base their decisions on hunches or personal prejudices, which cloud rational, logical thinking.

Some leaders make decisions off the cuff. They do not know exactly why they made them, and not until later when the decision backfires or when a study of facts reveals a better decision is the earlier judgment labeled a mistake. Sometimes a person must make a serious blunder before he will stop to take self-inventory. For the moment, at least, he knows he does not want to make that same mistake again.

No one deliberately wants to make mistakes, but we all make them. Some people make more mistakes than others. In fact, there are those who seem to be mistake-prone as some are accident-prone. The harder they try not to make mistakes, the more they seem to make.

However, most people are sympathetic with the misjudgments we make, and try to be understanding. This is fortunate. There comes a time, though, when sympathy and understanding are somewhat strained.

In the home, for example, the parents may become impatient with a child who, in a teaching situation, makes the same mistake time and time again. But, because he is a child, the parent is longsuffering.

How do members of [an organization] react to a staff member who is guilty of a recurring mistake? Some possible reactions are:

He is incapable, seemingly, of learning from his mistakes.

He uses poor judgment.

He is indecisive.

We are losing our respect for him.

Fortunately, most of us have discovered that we can learn from our own mistakes as well as from the mistakes of others.

Here are some suggestions to aid you in this learning:

1. Admit the mistake to yourself. Acknowledging a mistake is the first step to correction, improvement, and self-development. Mistakes can be good teachers.

2. Analyze the mistake. For the moment, think about a blunder you made recently. Were you pressured into making a decision? Some decisions require time for thinking, weighing facts, and anticipating possible consequences. Could pressure here be the reason for your misjudgment? Do not let yourself feel pressure into hasty decisions merely because you did not want to appear indecisive to a fellow worker. ... Ask for additional information, if necessary, or say specifically that you need more time to think things through. Naturally, as a leader you may make many minor decisions daily as problems arise.

Think back, too, about how you felt mentally or physically the day you made the decision. Is that a clue to your misjudgment?

Also, reflect upon the circumstances that immediately preceded your instance of misjudgment. Were they important? Would you probably make the same mistake under similar circumstances? The successful leader tries to undo mistakes, but not before he carefully analyzes them.

3. Consider the nature of the error. How serious is the mistake? Will it affect others and, if so, to what extent? Should you disregard the error? If so, will the mistake take root and grow?

Sometimes the overly conscientious person broods over and bemoans all his mistakes. Such an attitude reflects upon his overall work. He subconsciously becomes indecisive for fear of making other mistakes. He creates a false climate of leadership.

Conversely, the effective leader is concerned to study carefully the nature of each error and face boldly the consequences. Once a decision is reached, he acts accordingly.

4. If necessary, discuss the mistake with your supervisor. This involves judgment. When you feel you need to admit your error to your supervisor, try to think in terms of him and the [organization], rather than of yourself. He wants to know the nature of the mistake, its results, and what you propose as an alternate. Out of this experience, through the sharing of feelings, you will receive courage and spirit.

To learn from your mistakes may mean that you will need to revise past decisions when similar problems or situations arise. Revising decisions when they are shown to be wrong takes courage. Usually, people tend to forget your past errors when you show by current decisions that you have learned by your mistakes. Everyone is happier; and more important, you have matured in the process.

—Leonard E. Wedel, Church Administration, Nashville, Tenn., October 1962.


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