Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
~Don Miguel Ruiz
Don Miguel Ruiz is a learned and accomplished author of the New York Times Best-Selling book The Four Agreements, published in 1997. Ruiz advocates that we achieve personal freedom by adopting these four agreements as part of our recipe for living well: 1) Be Impeccable With Your Word, 2) Don’t Take Anything Personally, 3) Don’t Make Assumptions and, 4) Always Do Your Best.
The first two sentences of this quote underline the fact that many, if not most of us tend to operate under the illusion that other people are thinking of us whenever they do or say something. We need to remind ourselves that we are not at the center of other people’s universes all the time. Although this realization may be a blow to our ego, it is an important reality check – for our benefit.
It stands to reason that when I have to decide upon a course of action, no matter how much I love the others who are involved in that action or maybe affected by that act, I must decide on the basis of what is right or best. I have to live with the decisions I make because I’m the only one responsible for them. It is pointless to worry excessively about what people will think about my words or my actions. That kind of concern leads to indecision – and that benefits no one.
Ruiz exhorts us to see what others do and say as “… a projection of their own reality, their own dream.” Why should I see myself as the director or architect of another person’s reality? This is absurd! When you think about it, this view is also disrespectful of that other person. In effect, I’m operating from an expectation that my interests supersede theirs, giving me the right to be hurt or upset.
Another element of Ruiz’s second agreement is that of allowing ourselves to be negatively impacted by hurtful words from others – or gossip. The most natural thing in the world is to feel wounded when another person speaks unkindly or outright falsehoods about us. Sometimes, the gossips intend to hurt us or damage our reputations, but it doesn’t matter in the end. We can’t control the words of others, but we do have absolute control over how we react in those circumstances. When we get upset, we give them exactly what they want. This is a no-win circumstance for us.
Don Miguel Ruiz is encouraging us to use our common sense. If our emotions are getting in the way of a beneficial response or decision, then we must turn the feelings off. I’m reminded of the Vulcans in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe. Like humans, they were born with emotions, but they were raised since birth to suppress and ignore their feelings and embrace logic instead. Many Star Trek episodes explored this Vulcan reality and I always found it fascinating – to use one of Mr. Spock’s favorite words. Although Spock commanded the respect of his human crewmates, none of them wanted to live their lives that way.
Denying or suppressing our emotions all the time will not serve us well. Emotions are neither good nor bad, they just are. They are a part of our reality. Ruiz is saying that there are times when we must be immune to the hurtful words and actions of others. We need to turn off the hurt, turn away and leave it be. It is bad enough when others intend to victimize us; why would we react in a way that victimizes ourselves? That does not bring peace of mind, nor does it promote good decision-making.
If I am to continue to grow into a happy and healthy person, I need to stop taking these kinds of things personally. I need to protect myself… from myself, primarily. I can’t control what others say, nor can I control whether or not I hear them. I can control what I think, how I feel and what I do. Otherwise, I am not free because I have enslaved myself to others. I have committed the ultimate disrespect to myself. Let us choose to grow in wisdom, respect, and love!