In continuation of the series on The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, we move to number two. Like the first one, in theory, this one is simple. But man oh Manischewitz, this one is a doozy in practice. Ready for it? Know it already?
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY.
This one, I imagine, trips up everyone. How can we not take things that are said to us or about us personally? These things involve US! Doesn’t that by default make it personal?
Only if we agree to let it. I know that is way easier said than done. But really if we can get this down, it is truly an empowering practice. Let’s dissect this one and see how it works.
There is this quote I think of when I look at this. It has been credited to too many people for me to guess who truly said it, but it goes: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” It’s true. It isn’t our business, unless of course we make it our business. It is so easy to make it our business. Sometimes not making it our business feels weak, letting someone talk smack. That is not what this is about. If someone is telling lies about us, we do have the right to make sure the truth is told. But we can do it without taking it personally. And are better off when we do it that way.
If I think about a time where I had some unkind words to speak on someone, even if it was over some wrong they did me, I was usually speaking from a place of hurt or anger or bitterness. It was usually with the motive to either get support from the listener because I’m hurt or in the hopes to hurt someone back. Both reasons for my speaking are about me. Even if the words are seemingly about someone else. Right, wrong, or indifferent, I’m speaking about my feelings and perceptions of an experience. My perceptions don’t dictate the feelings of anyone but me unless someone else lets them. (Note: Before anyone wants to use this as an excuse to not take responsibility for their words and how they may have affected someone else, please refer to the First Agreement.)
I may want to make someone feel bad but I can’t make someone feel bad. They have to take the bait. Same goes for being the one spoken about. People can say what they want, but it is within my power to choose my response. And my response may just be to let it be. If there is truth to the statement and I was in the wrong, this can be an opportunity to make amends. If there is no truth to the statements or someone is just trying to hurt me, their words speak more about their character than mine. Knowing someone wants to have a negative exchange, why would I willingly oblige them? I don’t have time for that.
Now this does not mean we need to lie down and be doormats for every nasty person out there. It means their behavior does not dictate ours. When we take it personally, we make it our own. We pick up the trash they wanted to drop on us. We perpetuate the negativity. We keep the cycle alive.
If we choose instead to respond in a way that is detached from the emotions behind their words, albeit mindful of them, we don’t get caught up in the emotion. We can address the issue instead. If we react to the baggage instead of responding to the person, we more than likely won’t find anything but more drama. We do best to remember that sometimes the best response may be no response at all.
Again, I know. This isn’t easy. But it helps me when I think of this practice in terms of feelings and energy. How do I want to feel? Will putting my energy into taking it personally make me feel that way? Probably not. But in the heat of some moments, it may feel really good to dish out a verbal beatdown. However, the aftermath of said beatdown may not feel really good. In those cases when I feel I need to speak, it’s back to the first agreement and my impeccable words I go.
Seems like a lot of work, I know. But this is the kind of work that offers the biggest rewards. It’s soulwork. And that is the one thing I do take very personally. No one has the power to knock me off that work. Not unless I give it to them.
How do you avoid taking things personally or making things personal? How do you honor this agreement? And how has it worked out for you?
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