The Four Agreements a book by don Miguel Ruiz, and the Four Agreements Companion Guide outline an incredibly powerful philosophy that can revolutionize one’s life. My insightful daughter gave me the first book as a gift when she was only a teenager and I was still married to her father. At the time, I took a lot of criticism and verbal abuse personally, and The Four Agreements gave me solace and started me on the journey of not taking anything personally (the Second of the Four Agreements).
Now, almost 8 years later, I am in a better place, happily single, and optimistic about whatever adventures lie in my future thanks in part to the teachings of don Miguel Ruiz and the Four Agreements.
For me, this is THE single, most difficult agreement to master – and the one that allows me the most freedom and solace. When we realize that other people’s behavior has NOTHING to do with us and is not our responsibility, it allows us to be truly ourselves. We should not take anything personally whether it is POSITIVE or NEGATIVE.
This is not easy to do, especially if it was ingrained from an early age to do just the opposite!
I grew up learning to take everything personally whether it was from family, friends, strangers, or even strangers who cut me off in traffic.
My mother is now over 80 and is a master of taking everything personally. I recall many occasions where she would remark that she couldn’t understand why a friend would treat her so poorly and intend to hurt her. When I tried to console her and tell her that it might simply be a matter of circumstance or misunderstanding on someone’s part, she would chide me by saying “of course she meant to hurt me – she does this on purpose!”
I also remember many times coming home from school and talking to her about some family occurrence (she was one of 9 children) that seemed to be blown out of proportion. I remember my cousin choosing to attend another church (heaven forbid!) and hearing “O M G! can you believe that my niece left the church? How can her mother allow her to do that to her? I don’t know what I would ever do if one of you kids ever did that to us!” And so it went… every time anyone, me, or my siblings did something of which my mother did not approve the response was the same: “How could you/they do that … to me?” At the time I simply observed and was confused.
Personally, none of my choices or behaviors ever had anything to do with my parents, yet they took every move personally. I cannot imagine making a decision about my life and having to consider how everyone in the world might react, especially when it is not about them. When I realize that I believed what I was taught, I can understand why it is hard to NOT take things personally.
Despite this realization, the second agreement is difficult to put into practice – but I am determined to make it work! Today don Miguel Ruiz posted:
Write this agreement on paper, and put it on your refrigerator to remind you all the time:
Don’t take anything personally.
So I did, and in a matter of hours, I had to stop myself three time from taking things personally. Here’s what happened:
1. A potential contract on hold:
I received an email from a company with which I am a candidate for an upcoming contract (I interviewed with them twice last week.) The email said that the company has decided to consider a few internal people for the position before moving forward with me.
My gut first reaction: I felt that I might not be qualified enough or that I did not make a good enough impression on the recruiting manager (who I only spoke to once). It felt like it could be a personal slight against me.
Reality: The hiring manager does not know me. The decision to consider internal candidates has NOTHING to do with me. It is NOT personal! If the company decides in a few weeks to move forward with me, again it is not personal to me.
2. Email from my father:
My father sent me an email in response to photos I sent of my newborn granddaughter, ignoring the photos but saying how I am hurting my mother by not renewing ties with a toxic relative. He cited religion as being the reason I need to go back to fix the relationship and said that whatever caused the rift should be ignored as irrelevant.
My gut first reaction: This felt like a personal affront. My first reaction was to think that “there is nothing I ever do or not do that is good enough for my parents. Unless I follow their edicts exactly, they will always reject me.” The accusatory words and religious “guilt-mongering” from someone I love further made it feel personal.
Reality: The email is not really about me at all. My choice about whether to embrace a toxic relationship is my choice and it has nothing to do with my parents. It is purely an extension of the childhood “how could you do xxx TO US?” and is a pattern. It’s not personal.
3. A kind gesture from a stranger
Someone let me go ahead of them into the single merge lane in a construction zone; an act of small kindness.
My first gut reaction: S/he let me in because of all the times I have let others in. Maybe s/he liked my smile and realizes (?) that I am a good person.
Reality: This was NOT personal. When someone does a random act of kindness their behavior is purely a reflection on them, not me.
These were three minor events where my “gut reaction” (my ego) was to take things personally. It takes conscious thought to overcome this tendency – especially when it is part of our family behavior. With effort, we CAN overcome the old programming that causes us to take things personally.
Remembering not to take ANYTHING personally is a hard thing to do…
but mastering it brings power, peace, and freedom!
What do YOU think?
Have a great week!