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.
On the Toltec path, the First Agreement teaches us about the power and proper use of our own word, whereas the Second Agreement (Don’t take anything personally) gives us immunity to the words and actions of others.
It is all very simple: If you worry about other people’s opinions, if you are hurt by what others say about you, if you take personally what others say and do, you put yourself in a position to be wounded. If you don’t take anything personally, the words and actions of others can no longer hurt you. You have a shield that protects you.
In the words of don Miguel, “Immunity to poison in the middle of hell is the gift of this agreement.” Even after you master the Second Agreement, the poison will still be out there. People will continue to gossip about you and go against you. The arrows will still be flying. The difference is that they will no longer “get under your skin.” They will no longer affect your feelings. When you no longer take things personally, you will no longer be wounded, even in the midst of battle.
Cover the Earth With Leather, Or Wear Shoes
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “When your feet hurt, you can either cover the whole earth with leather ... or wear shoes!” Most of us have symbolically covered the earth with leather. We spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to make our outer environment safe, hoping people won’t say or do things that are hurtful to us. Almost every day, we make huge efforts to change others in order to avoid being wounded, in order to stay “safe.”
And what is the result? We are usually disappointed. In spite of all our efforts, others still manage to do or to say things that hurt us. Why not wear shoes instead? Why not use a shield? In other words, why not learn not to take things personally?
Why Do We Take Things Personally?
Why do we take things personally, anyway? Because when we were children we got used to being judged. We got used to believing what our parents and teachers said about us: “You’re too fat. You’re too noisy. You’re terrible at math. You’ll never make it. You’re a bad girl! You’re a failure.”
We also got used to competing for approval—for praise, good grades, athletic honors, and work promotions. For most of us, the net result of all this criticism and competition was an ingrained sense of anxiety, including the belief that we weren’t lovable or good enough. Sometimes we even got punished for it.
Thus, beginning in our childhood and continuing into adulthood, we gave others—particularly family and authority figures—the power to judge and punish us. Since we gave others that power and then forgot that we were the ones who gave it to them, it became extremely important to “control” our outer environment, to “walk on eggshells,” to “pave the world with leather” in hope of minimizing the pain. We set up our lives in order to play it safe. We are very careful about what we say and do in order to avoid being hurt, to avoid having our wounds touched. Of course, it doesn’t work. The more we try to avoid pain, the more painful our lives become!
Remember: Everyone Is in Their Own World
Since this strategy of self-protection is bound to fail, the alternative is to heal our old wounds and take back the power we gave away. How? By realizing that what others say and do has nothing to do with us—and that it never did.
How is this possible? Just look around. If you do, you will soon see that others are in their own world. They are living in cocoons woven with their own beliefs and agreements. They don’t see you as you really are. If they did, they wouldn’t speak and act the way they do. If they were in touch with their own inner essence and saw your inner essence, they would show you nothing but love and acceptance.
One day, someone thinks you’re wonderful, the next you can’t win for losing. The fact is, though, you haven’t changed at all; you’re still the same. What the other person says or does is just a projection, and you are just a screen for the other person’s movie. So why should you take it personally? Why should you try to justify yourself? Why should you try to prove you’re right and they’re wrong? The truth is the truth, regardless of what anyone thinks.
No matter what anyone thinks, it doesn’t change a thing about what you really are. So, why fight it?
Caution: If you want to be able not to take anything personally, you have to be free of other people’s positive opinions, too! Think about it: if someone tells you, “You’re fantastic! You’re wonderful!” and you need to be acknowledged in this way, then you will also be open to negative opinions. To be free of other people’s opinions, to have immunity to poison in the midst of hell, means to free yourself of both criticism and compliments.
Recovering the Power to Be You
Just for fun, imagine for a moment all the things you say or don’t say in the space of one day, and all the things you do or don’t do in one day because of what others might say about you. If you wrote out a list, it might take a long time. Do you realize how much power you give to other people’s opinions? What if you could recover that power? What would you freely say and do, and how much room would you have to move around?
Now, imagine for a couple of minutes how your life would be if, no matter what other people said or did, nothing could hurt you any longer, if literally nothing could affect how good you felt about yourself. What would your life be like if you were totally immune to other people’s opinions? What freedoms would you enjoy that you don’t enjoy now? How much space would open up within you? What new possibilities?
Just feel that space, savor that possibility. The truth is, it’s yours right now. It has always been yours. The only barrier between you and total freedom is what you still take personally.
What’s Your SIQ?
When someone takes something personally, don Miguel calls it “personal importance” or “self-importance.” That is, the person affected feels like his “little self,” or his ego, has been attacked or threatened, and he feels the need to protect or defend that personal identify, that “little me.” Don Miguel estimates that most people use about 95 percent of their life energies defending and protecting themselves and only about 5 percent really living. Imagine what our lives would be like if it were the other way around—if those numbers were reversed!
If you want to get an idea of how strong your self-importance is, here are a few questions to help you determine your Self-Importance Quotient (SIQ). The more times you answer “Yes,” the higher your SIQ. The lower your score, the more freedom you probably enjoy.
- Do I often try to impress people or “look good?”
- Do I often look for other people’s approval?
- Do I often need to be “right”—for example, in a discussion?
- Do I often need to “win”—for example, a game or an argument?
- Do I often need to “help” people in order to feel good about myself?
- Do I often feel angry, resentful, or blaming toward others?
- Do I often feel angry, blaming, or critical of myself?
- Do I often feel victimized—used, abused, or taken advantage of?
- Do I often find myself explaining, complaining, or making excuses?
- Do I often feel fear, anxiety, or apprehension about the future?
- Do I have a lot of “drama” in my life?
- Do I often gossip or tell stories about others or myself?
There are obviously other questions you could ask yourself to get a sense of your Self-Importance Quotient; however, this should be plenty. Be aware of judging yourself for being self-important, however, because that is self-importance, too! Personal importance is a very subtle thing, which takes a lot of time and attention to root out.
In fact, there is probably not a human being on the planet who doesn’t have some of it. So as you explore this hidden realm of the psyche, just relax and treat it like a game. And remember the most amazing and liberating truth: Self-importance is based on a false “you,” a so-called “person” who doesn’t really exist!
The more you let go of this so-called “person” by not taking things personally, the more naturally you will come to know the radiant and eternal being that you truly are beyond mind and form, the universal consciousness that underlies and infuses all things.
Don’t Misuse the Second Agreement
Another important point about the Second Agreement is that often it is taken too far. Don’t take anything personally doesn’t mean, “Don’t listen to anything critical that people have to say.” At the suggestion of the Second Agreement, I have seen some people become impervious to everything, to the point that even constructive criticism and positive suggestions roll off them like water off a duck’s back. This is not what don Miguel recommends at all.
Not taking things personally means listening to people openly and honestly, taking their feelings and opinions into account. It means staying open to constructive criticism and honest disagreement in the hope that others can help you grow through expressing how they see you, through showing you your reflection in the mirror of life. If I don’t even listen to what you say, the Second Agreement is no longer a useful shield but a space suit that is impervious to everything, including expressions of love and goodwill.
Here we find an echo of the Fifth Agreement, which says, Be skeptical, but learn to listen! In other words, “Don’t automatically believe everything you hear, but don’t shut people out. Always stay open to learning and growing.”
The Second Agreement invites us to take back the power we have given others to hurt us, in order to free ourselves from the negative effects of other people’s opinions. Thanks to this shield, we can freely go forward in life, being who we are and daring to do what we want to do, without being afraid of what others might think or say about us.
©2012 by Trédaniel La Maisnie. All Rights Reserved.
Original title: Le Jeu des Accords Toltèques
Reprinted with permission of the English-language publisher,
Findhorn Press. www.findhornpress.com.
The Five Agreements Game: A Chivalry of Relationships
by Olivier Clerc.
In the book that comes with this game, Olivier Clerc introduces the Toltec way as an authentic 'chivalry' of relationships, allowing us to establish impeccable relationships with both others and oneself. Simply playing this game will lead you to use the five simple yet efficient agreements to fully accept yourself and others. Thus you will acquire self-mastery in three major steps.
About the Author
Born in Switzerland and living in France, Olivier Clerc is an internationally reknown writer and workshop leader, teaching in many countries around the world. After meeting Don Miguel Ruiz in Mexico in 1999, when he received the "Gift of Forgiveness", Olivier translated and published all of Don Miguel's books in French. Find out more about Olivier and his books at: giftofforgiveness.olivierclerc.com