Recently, a friend introduced me to “The Four agreements.” Like so many, she lives by then, and she was eager to share their wisdom with me.
In case you are as unfamiliar with “The Four Agreements” as I was, they come from a book by Miguel Ruiz entitled, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book), which Oprah loves.
Here are the agreements in a nutshell:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
On the surface, they seem innocent, perhaps even thoughtful and wise. But then again, I would be a fool if I didn’t always want to do my best; I am well aware that assumptions put an “ass” between “u” and “me”; and I have been teaching kids forever about how important “being impeccable with their word” is. As a navigator of life’s river, this advice feels obvious.
But when I come to “Don’t Take Anything Personally,” I can’t help but shake my head. Now I have never read Miguel Ruiz, so I can’t be sure how he defines ‘don’t take anything personally,’ but when I look at this quote from his book, “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you,” I gotta say that I disagree.
My problem with this “agreement” is our tendency to ignore. Ignoring is easy. I do it every day. The river requires more.
When you ignore how I treat you, rather than examine and learn, you fail to understand why I treat you the way I treat you, and you will sail into that same treatment day after day. If you are happy with how I treat you, then fine. Obviously, how I treat you is fine with me, or else I would treat you differently.
But if everything is so fine between us then why did you have to be reminded to not take what I said or did personally?
And there is the chink, the rub, the foil.
I do treat people differently, and I am sure you do the same. I have been accused, rightly so, of being abrupt, short, and borderline rude to some people; yet I am the epitome of amiability, creativity, and understandung to others.
Nearly every action I take, with regards to others, is an attempt to communicate. With some people, communication flows easily and so does my admiration. But with other people, my attempts at communication seem to be met with a wall at every turn.
I begin telling someone about my day, and that person interrupts me midsentence in order to tell me about a similar experience that has nothing to do with my original story but shows how clever and informed they are. They don’t know how to listen, so I stop talking. They make assumptions about what I mean, want, or need and end up wondering why I don’t show any gratitude. They may occasionally listen to my words, but they seldom glimpse my meaning. Over time, I become abrupt, short, and borderline rude. My abrupt, short, and borderline rude behavior is actually a last ditch attempt to send a message, which Miguel Ruiz’s simple mantra says is my problem, not yours.
Let’s look at the quote from Miguel Ruiz again:
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”
Well the river explains it differently:
“The next time you feel upset by what someone says about you, remember that what people say about you is never an accurate reflection of you. What people say about you is really a reflection of them. When people complain about you, they are really saying something about who they are and what they believe. Their words are clues to the struggles that they are having inside. So instead of just hearing the words that others use, you should try listening to the messages behind their words. When you understand what others intend, you can act upon their intentions with understanding.”
― Lynn Marie Sager, A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life
If I don’t understand life’s currents, I might not understand why people treat me the way they do. If I ignore life’s currents, I will just repeat the pattern.
So what is the bottom line?
The river is too deep, too complicated, and too vast for easy anwsers. Exceptions exist within every rule. However, the currents of life do follow a pattern, and when we understand those patterns, we can learn to navigate our lives without platitudes and mantras. Of course platitudes and mantras do have their place, but they are techniques not strategies. Any effective navigator should know the difference.
If you want to learn more about navigating the river of life, why not audit the first lesson free?
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