One of my favorite, often-read books, is The Four Agreements, by M. Ruiz. A major reason that I like the book is that the author has simplified the complexity of knowing oneself into four simple statements to accept and make part of one’s approach to life. Of the four, the one agreement that has most affected my outlook on life is the second one: Don’t Take Anything Personally.
Initially, that agreement may seem trite, even overly simplistic on a complex issue. It may even cause one to think that the agreement avoids taking ownership of criticisms, a refusal to face life’s harder issues. But it’s not that at all. The agreement is a reflection that what others say is always more about them than you. I have grown from that agreement to realize that both criticisms and compliments are never personal. I now accept that when a person offers criticism, the criticism is a reflection on the individual’s self-perception of the topic at hand and a personal dissatisfaction that my view is different; my view on the topic failed to reassure the other person of his/her belief.
Likewise, I now understand that compliments also reflect the speaker of the compliment and not the receiver. When I tell you that I like you (or that I think you look handsome or pretty, or that I think you’re intelligent, or whatever), what I am really stating is that I want you to like me and, by doing so, to increase my own self-awareness of who I am and to provide me with needed companionship or awareness. Think about that. Whenever you make a positive statement to another, you are likely telling them what they already know, but that isn’t your real intent: your intent is to be recognized by the other person. When we compliment people, we want them to know the compliment came from us: that’s the real message.
This awareness has sustained me for the two decades since I first read the book, yet I have discovered there is a corollary: No One Cares About You. That hurts, doesn’t it? We have an inner need to be liked, yet we have just proved that no one does; others care about themselves and only of us as we relate to them. On first discovering this, we may feel depression, confirmation that we are not desirable, an acknowledgment of one of our deepest fears.
That was my first thought on realizing the corollary, yet the strength comes from the agreement itself: one should not take it personally. Life is a struggle for all of us and our first priority is about ourselves, whether we acknowledge it or not. We find proof of the corollary when we consider what people experience in life-changing events, such as divorce or the death of another person. The emotions being felt are because we no longer are receiving the reassurance that the other person was providing to us. All along, it was really about us. We mourn their death or separation from us, but it is how that action affects our view of ourselves that is our concern.
Is there strength to come from this? Yes, definitely. We, alone, are accountable for how we view this one life, and this knowledge strengthens our power in our lives. What we think, what we do, are reflections of who we are. We take strength in this, and this strength empowers us to accept and build on the relationships in our lives. A quote to guide us:
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Further strength in this life comes also from those other three agreements from the book: Be Impeccable with Your Word, Don’t Make Assumptions, and Always Do Your Best. Read the book; you’ll enjoy it. I did.