This article reviews one of the simplest-thought-provoking books I have read this year. The book by Ruiz Miguel, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” draws about the traditions of ancient Toltec’s; a group of indigenous people of Mexico.
The book reinforces many of the theories and ideas already discussed by psychologists and cognitive-behavior-specialists, analyzing human behavior and why we behave the way we do. Centered on the behaviors of biblical Toltecs, Miguel reveals that human behavior is domesticated; tamed since the day we were born. For example; our first food, taste, language, school, community, neighbors, earliest-childhood-friends are all chosen for us by our parents and guardians. As children, we are left with no choice but to agree with whats being taught as right and wrong. Eventually, these standards become an unconscious way of life, an instruction manual on how to live a decent life. These rules and conditions-worth-living-for becomes the means of how rightfully we are perceived in the community and determines the style of future our life holds. Though these set of rules weren’t chosen by us, as we grow, we are in agreement with it and passes the same to succeeding generations.
The following comprehends my thinking on what Miguel explains as The Four Agreements:
1. Be impeccable with your word:
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
This basically means, stop being insensitive to others. As explained before, we are domesticated since we are born, taught right and wrong, how to analyze and judge. So in a sense, when we see someone else doing something in an alternative way then we have practiced it (or we perceive it illegal or unethical) we rush to judge and explain “our-so-very-right-ways” on how it should be done. This process involved criticism and harsh words that end up hurting the other person or unnecessary consequences. So being impeccable with your word means – don’t say something to someone in a manner that you would be hurt if someone said it to you. Have a positive influence on people and find a polite means to explain your point of view, without gloating over your superiority and mastery. In a sense, we should stop saying i-would-have-done-it-this-way-if-i-were-in-your-place, because most of the time when someone does something we might never understand what the person is going through and their circumstances.
2. 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.
I might disagree with the part “anything”. But this is just a following on the first agreement. When people say hurtful things (or anything), elucidating on your life or standards, it is just a mere reflection of how they perceive you. While most of the time we dwell on the hurtful things others say, we have to remember that it might be complete bullshit, just how the other person sees us – and there might be no truth to it. Everyone has the right to their own judgment, and it makes their unique identities. Whats important is you are self-aware of whats happening at the moment and being able to handle the situation by being impeccable with your word. Just because someone said a hurtful thing, you shouldn’t say a more hurtful statement as revenge. It never is a competition. The best is just to walk away from situations and people that bring out the worst in you, and criticizes you for every second they have eyes on you.
3. Don’t make assumptions:
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
The first two agreements explain how to resolve situations, while this agreement basically explains how the problem is created. Assuming we know why someone behaves in a certain way, or why they say what they say, or what kind of an environment or situation someone lives in – creates the main problem. Assumption – limits us from seeking the truth, being compassionate about people close to us and its a catalyst for undesirable consequences. Most of the time our actions towards people are based on hundreds of prior assumptions we have. For example; after meeting a stranger for a few seconds we initiate conversation only when they do. If they don’t smile we perceive them as unfriendly or if they don’t give any attention, we assume they are arrogant and aloof. This leads to a bad start of friendship or no-relationship because we are not passionate about understanding the truth about the other person and accepting it’s how they are. We have our own pre-criteria of how this stranger should be if we are to have a friendship, or even as a work mate. We should learn to respect others as we would want to be respected, and believe that we cant read other’s mind. Tell whats bothering each other in a meaningful way, without expecting you will always be right, or they are always right.
4. Always do your best:
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
The last agreement is the most obvious. We cant achieve our goals without trying our best. We always have to seek to be better every day, be better tomorrow than you were today. While every day we are working to achieve something, our purpose should be to be best of ourselves, regardless of how and what anyone says to you. Don’t let people discourage you and stop you from being greater. You are the only one who can judge yourself honestly and know your weakness and strengths. Others can comprehend what is most acceptable, but it’s you who knows your limits. Pain, happiness, love, friendship or any other, no one can understand your limit better than you. So don’t stop being your best. You are the judge of it. Be patient with yourself, meaningful in your efforts and persistent in your actions.
My personal takeaways
Initiate exercising these four agreements in your life. Start today. Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, stop making assumptions and keep doing your best. If you fail in one agreement or other, start again. Try to follow these for at least a month, every day. Then see how your life changes. How happy and at peace, you are. How you perceive others and how people have changed towards you. The four agreements – it’s worth trying.