Updated: Mar 16
The second agreement of the Four Agreements states, “Don’t take anything personally."
"Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.” – Don Miguel Ruiz
Ah, I hear the groans now. Most people find this one especially difficult. After all, when we hear criticism, it is hard not to take it personally. But there really is no need. Think about your day and what you tend to dwell on.
The clock goes off, and we roll over, thinking about what would happen if we just hit snooze.
Just once… and realize that if we do, we will end up not getting a shower, or perhaps not getting breakfast, or maybe be late getting to work, and that others will be upset with us. So, we drag ourselves out of bed and get ready for our day.
We look in the closet see what to wear. “Ah," you say, “I really want to get into my comfy sweats, but I have a meeting today, and the potential client is going to think I am not professional if I’m not in a suit... So I guess I will wear this.”
And at work, we look in the mirror, straighten our clothing or hair, worrying how we will appear to others.
At noon we think about what we want to eat.
After lunch we think about what we need to do.
On the way home, we think about what to fix for our evening meal, what we want to read or watch on television...
There is a theme here. We spend almost 99% of our time thinking about OURSELVES.
That is normal. That is what we humans do. We think about ourselves. So, if you spend 99% of your day thinking about yourself, and everybody else is spending 99% of their day thinking about themselves, that means we are all only spending about 1% of our day really thinking about others.
So how does this knowledge help you to refrain from taking things personally?
You get to work. Your boss comes in and yells, “Straighten up your desk. It looks a mess." And you feel your face get red and you realize you are embarrassed. You think, “He shouldn’t talk to me that way. I did not do anything to deserve that."
You are right. But, your boss, if he is like most of us, is not thinking about you. He is thinking that he had a flat tire on his car when he left this morning and had to call someone to fix it, so he was late, he is behind on a project, and he is feeling inadequate and angry. And you just happened to cross his path, so you caught the brunt of his own feelings.
You go home and your partner begin to fuss that you left your breakfast dishes in the sink again instead of putting them in the dishwasher, and your partner is tired of “always having to pick up after you." Then, it explodes into the fact that you leave your shoes by the door, and pretty soon, you feel angry and defensive and wonder why in the world this happened.
But, just like the boss, your partner probably had a bad day and is only thinking about his or herself. You just happened to be in the way and caught the fallout.
Then you feel angry, and turn it on yourself. This is how a depression is born.
The second agreement highlights that we are all working through the perspective of our own unique experiences. My perspective is different than your perspective, and while we may have many things in common, your actions, thoughts, and words are not about me. Whatever a friend posts on Facebook or Twitter, says to me during lunch, or thinks about the way I look, is not about me.
When I take something a friend does personally, I am centering myself, using limited information to jump to conclusions, and ignoring their experience and perspective. Additionally, I am telling myself things that are probably not true.
When I take things personally, I ask myself (painful) questions like:
· Are they mad at me?
· What did I do?
· Are they doing this on purpose?
· Am I being excluded?
· Why don’t I belong?
Ruiz’ words remind us that we are all doing the best we can in any given moment and that another person’s thoughts, behaviors, and actions are about them and their experience, rather than a reflection of our worthiness.
So, how do I use this second agreement in my life? The next articles will address this.