When You Think Someone Is Wrong

wrong way sign

I’ve been thinking about Ignatius’s Presupposition lately. This is a ground rule for the Spiritual Exercises that he puts right at the beginning of the book. It’s about the relationship between the spiritual director and person making the retreat.

To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.

Note that Ignatius isn’t saying that we should play Mister Nice Guy and ignore mistakes and false beliefs. Error should be corrected—but “with all kindness.” But before we start correcting other people, we need to do something else, and that is to do everything we can to understand how the other person understands the proposition that bothers us so much. This is the part that’s so often skipped. We think we already know why someone is spouting dangerous nonsense: they’re ignorant, or selfish, or afraid to admit the truth. They’re bad.

Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian SpiritualityHow good it would be if spouses, politicians, business associates, and fellow Christians did what Ignatius advised, and were more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.

About Jim Manney 769 Articles
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is Ignatian Spirituality A to Z. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

7 Comments on When You Think Someone Is Wrong

  1. WOW! That is something to ponder for the day (Month, Year??)Especially when someone comes out with something that sounds particularly outrageous (to Me). Especially Politicians!
    I obviously have a lot of work to do. And there I was thinking I am a tolerant person!?! The Holy Spirit has a lot of work to do on me / or perhaps With me.

  2. To put a good interpretation…

    I have been struck recently by how programmed we each are when it comes to our opinions. So much of what we think is a product of our history (or herstory).

    Thus, it just becomes interesting to listen to someone with a different point of view and try to understand how that opinion came about.

    I want to live according to my truths, but can’t expect everyone else to hold the same. Hopefully, once in a while, I’ll meet someone who shares them.

  3. How appropriate for me today. I am in such a mood! But on the light side I thought of the Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar, and what happens when you assume . . . I need the grace to address everyone with kindness today.


    • Ya me too. It’s the weather. Around here we’re all sick and tired of winter and as soon as spring gets here — it rains. Somehow though I find comfort in rain — living water coming down. I’ll think of you as I walk outside this morning.

  4. And even there we have to be careful lest they come back with, “And who do you think you are?” Good idea to first ask where they’re coming from. Usually fear of some sort. But then we can’t just assume that either.

  5. How good it would be if…

    Yep, how good it would be. As I wondered what it would take to get this going nationwide, specifically with a huge election on the national horizon, perhaps it should start with me, easier said than done. But what if…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.