We’re excited to offer the third in Eric Burnham’s five-part series on “The Four Agreements,” by bestselling author Don Miguel Ruiz. In the book, Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
The next agreement to be made with yourself is: Don’t take anything personally. It’s natural to personalize how you are treated. The ability to not personalize anything is learned, and it takes lots of practice. Without a doubt, some things are easier to brush off than others, but the way you are treated is rarely a referendum upon your person or character. Truth be told, you’re not that important. Other people are the most important characters in the unfolding story of their lives, not you. That’s just an existential truth.
Some people are inconsiderate, selfish jerks. Some are loud, obnoxious, and difficult. Others make broad, sweeping statements and over-generalizations designed to offend as many as possible. Still others are simply too stupid to realize their own ignorance. There are bullies, pushovers, snipers, haters, and snakes. There are those who don’t care about anything and those who care about everything. There are users, abusers, looters, and polluters. You can’t change them–and it isn’t your responsibility to do so. How they treat you, however, says far more about them than it does you.
Of course it goes without saying that the opinions and actions of those whom you hold in higher esteem carry more weight; you’ll be more disappointed or offended by their dishonest or unethical actions, and their slights and insults will hurt more. Yet even how they treat you only becomes about you when you personalize it. It’s far better to choose to grow through the experience, rather than be limited by self-consciousness or enslaved to anger and self-doubt.
There’s an old adage that holds life to be 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. While that’s admittedly over simplistic, some truth can be found there. Basically, how you respond to the circumstances of your life and the people around you will determine not only your degree of personal growth, but also how you feel about yourself. When you allow the words and actions of others to dictate your emotions and ensuing behaviors, you are not in control of your life. Other people are controlling you, your life, and ultimately, your destiny–even if you think they’re not. That’s the quirky thing about objective truth: It’s true whether you believe it or not.
Consequently, if life is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react, then taking things personally will profoundly impact your reactions. Personalizing and catastrophizing leads to anxiety, unrest, and resentment. You’ll never find peace, fulfillment, and self-assurance by personalizing the way you are treated. Even if you reach your goals, you’ll be miserable if you’re unrealistically expecting others to treat you the way you think you should be treated. You’ll be stuck wrapped up in a need for validation and affirmation that will never come.
Everyone is in a different stage of personal development, and you’re never completely aware of what is going on in someone else’s life. But you are aware of what’s going on in yours. If you strive to be a good person, and you adhere to these four agreements, you can find lasting peace. Don’t take anything personally — things are never as bad as they feel.