Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

posted by Beyond Blue

I wrote about The Second Agreement awhile back: 

It’s been one of those days where I’ve had to consult Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic book, “The Four Agreements,” and read the chapter about the second spiritual agreement: “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”

I keep the book beside my desk to remind me of the second agreement whenever I get a harsh comment on a message board of one of my posts, or when I get feedback from my allies (kids, sisters, mom, friends, husband, co-workers) that is less than warm and fuzzy.

“Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you,” writes Ruiz. (Man, I love that.) “What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…. Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians…. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell.”

Whenever I am about to accept someone’s opinion of me (as selfish, self-absorbed, bitter, spoiled, or whiny) as if it is the truth about who I am, I remember the afternoon at Mass when the older man behind me would not shake my hand when it was time to exchange a sign of peace.

“Did he just see me wipe my nose?” I wondered. “Do I have broccoli in my teeth? Why won’t this man shake hands with me? Am I just too dirty for Mr. Clean?”

As I walked up to Communion, I saw a 90-year-old woman kneeling who took a 12-year-old girl by the hand and wiggled a very holy index finger at her face in a fashion that a 90-year-old nun might have done, say, before the Second Vatican Council.

I looked at the lady in back of me in line to see if she saw what I did, and we giggled.

“Do you think it was her skirt?” I whispered to her (I know that I’m not technically supposed to gossip on the way to receiving the Body of Christ). “It’s pretty short.” (It was well above her knee, but the girl looked pretty wholesome–by today’s standards anyway.)

“I think it was her hands,” the woman whispered back to me. “According to the old school, you should keep them folded at your waist.”

After Mass, the woman who was behind me pulled me aside and explained what had transpired between the young girl and the older lady.

“The young girl accidentally stepped on the elderly woman’s foot,” she said.

We started laughing. I thought it was her skirt. She thought it was her hands. It was neither.

The girl, I then found out, didn’t care what set the woman off. The two of us, on the other hand, had invested at least ten minutes of our brain time into analyzing the bizarre encounter.

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t take any of it personally,” I said to the girl, who I approached after services together with my new friend. “Because I sort of did when the older guy in back of me refused to shake my hand at peace.”

“Listen, I stopped shaking hands with anyone a few years ago,” said the woman. “I work with very ill people and can’t afford to bring them any type of bacteria or virus.”

Oh. I didn’t think about that.

Ruiz is right. Never take things personally. Our own reasoning is rarely accurate.

Peace be with you! 

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posted May 17, 2007 at 8:18 pm

Your very right. I recently have hit hard financial times and two people reciently called me names I’d rather not repeat. One my ex who knows I’m not what he called me and one a stranger, a girl, who called me something I can’t be because anyone who sees me daily at that spot knows I’m not that. So it’s pretty funny, because the truths right there and people can see threw my actions what I’ve been for years, but you’ll still get names…and that’s the conclusion I’ve come up with, the person has there own issue- that you’ll probably never know and nearly never guess. It is worth shrugging off negativity of any form and be proud of yourself with a pat on the back for how maturely you handled it. For people who intentionally hurt others I completely believe in the mentality, what goes around comes around; and it won’t be threw me because I choose to forgive being a christian it’s my responsibility that I’ll have to answer to God someday for my actions, but someday they might be down and out and learn at the worst time they burned all there bridges.

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posted May 18, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Christine,Being a Christian means, if someday they are down and out, you will extend your hand to them. If they ‘burned all their bridges’ you’ll let them use your bridge. If you have to answer to God and you are responsible for your actions how would you answer to turning your back on someone you have forgiven? Being a Christian means being Christ-Like. You don’t have to be the best friend of someone who hurt you. But, Christ would never turn his back on anyone. I hope your difficulties are soon behind you. CJ

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posted October 23, 2008 at 10:34 am

Therese: Thanks so much for the humor you inject into our days. How do you keep drawing from that strength? Do you have any suggestions on incorporating humor into each difficult situation? Also, you don’t seem to be troubled by irritability much, which is a MAJOR symptom of my depression. Do you have any suggestions on dealing with irritability???
Again, thank you for helping us depressives through the tough days of fall and winter!!

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posted October 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Two days ago I was blasted in an email from someone I thought was friendly, if not a friend. Had I not worked hard in counseling to separate what is someone’s opinion of me, from who I really am, I would have been crushed. That the email was full of lies, would not have changed how I would have felt. It made me realize how far I’ve come in moving toward wholeness and peace.

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Larry Parker

posted October 23, 2008 at 3:52 pm

As I’ve said before, if the Second Agreement was, “Don’t take everything so personally,” it would be brilliant and certainly outstanding advice, in an age when we often fret what people may or may not think of us. The logical extension of letting others hurt us with their reputed opinions, of course, is solipsism — a grave danger for those of us with depression.
The problem is, however, what Ruiz actually said is “Don’t take anything personally.” And, while I might be violating the Third Agreement (LOL), when I read the chapter on the Second Agreement, I take it as being “DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY.” And I mean ANYTHING.
And if you seal yourself off to stop caring about other people or things altogether, simply so you can’t be hurt, thus lies the way to nihilism — another grave danger for those of us with depression.
Better, IMO, to say moderation in all things …

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Karen N.

posted October 23, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Therese, and fellow readers,
If anything should be needlepointed on a pillow, it is “Don’t take things personally.” A tough lesson for my brain to process, but a pertinent lesson indeed.

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posted October 23, 2008 at 9:27 pm

It really helps to be reminded that what we may perceive as a direct insult can really be about how the other person views himself. Every mind is a world unto itself. Thank you Therese. I think I will add this as one of the goals I want to work on with my new therapist.

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posted October 29, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Good one, Therese. I’ll have to remember that–not to take things personally. There’s always a reason behind someone’s behavior or lack thereof and we have no idea what it may be. No sense imagining in our little heads all sorts of crazy stuff that only makes us feel worse! Love Valerie

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Your Name

posted July 6, 2009 at 3:16 am

Based on his book, I have to admit that I take just about everything personally. What I am struggling with is where do you draw the line? On the one hand we are humans who spend our entire lives learning and developing. Some criticisms are warranted. If a sibling makes fun of another, they need to learn to not treat others that way because of the effect it has on others. Clearly has Christians we are called to have a positive effect on those around us. How do you distinquish between taking something personally because you should ignore it vs. how to look at what another is saying objectively and committ to change that behavior in yourself? This may be particulalry difficult to answer for a person who is more sensitive than most (e.g. a cancer survivor).

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