Are you tired of getting irritated by others’ snide and resentful remarks? Are you sick of becoming saddened by the insensitive actions of those who repeatedly show no remorse? I certainly am, which is why I’ve decided to stop taking things personally.
I realized that I can become liberated from so much unnecessary emotional suffering by adhering to this second agreement outlined in don Miguel Ruiz’s book, “The Four Agreements.”
Abdu’l-Baha said, “Everything in life ministers to our development. Our lesson is to study and learn… Tests are either stumbling blocks or stepping stones, just as we make them.”
Don’t Take Anything Personally: 5 Tips for This Crucial Second Agreement
“Don’t take anything personally” is one of my absolute favorite lessons from “The Four Agreements.”
Based on the guidance from the Baha’i writings and the advice in don Miguel Ruiz’s Toltec wisdom book, here are five tips that are helping me put this second agreement into practice. I hope they can help you too.
1. Understand That Everything Is Not About You
As we experience reality through our individual lenses and the perceptual filters that come with them, it’s easy to assume that how people treat us is a reflection of their judgment and feelings toward us. But, that’s not always the case.
If we want to stop taking things personally, we need to remind ourselves that not everything is about us. In fact, don Miguel Ruiz wrote that “nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
2. Avoid Making Negative Assumptions About a Person’s Intent
It’s important to avoid making negative assumptions about a person’s intentions or behaviors toward you. This applies to all forms of communication, spoken, nonverbal, and written.
“According to Nick Morgan, author of ‘Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World,’ people think others understand their messages 90 percent of the time, but the actual statistic is only 50 percent,” wrote Ryan Jenkins, a contributor for Entrepeneur.com.
“So how are people perceiving things the wrong way? One example: Recipients of a two-word email or text such as ‘nice job’ or ‘great work’ interpret the message as sarcastic 60 percent of the time, Morgan writes. Why do people misinterpret so frequently? Humans have a tendency to assume the worst when the intent of communication isn’t clear.”
If people are more likely to attribute a sarcastic tone to positive, congratulatory words, how much more often do they attribute hostile and aggressive intentions to messages that may be frank but are still polite?
We all know what it’s like to be misunderstood, so we should try more often to not assume the worst about other people’s intentions as well.
3. Avoid Internalizing the Issues of Others
Of course, some people will be cruel to you because they simply don’t like you, and that does feel personal.
However, a person’s envious or resentful behavior could be a mask for their insecurities. Likewise, a person’s inability to apologize and take accountability might be a reflection of their discomfort with vulnerability and fear of acknowledging another side of themselves.
Beyond mere dislike, if they are racist, sexist, ageist, or classist, their spiritual illnesses are not your issues to internalize. “That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours,” wrote don Miguel Ruiz.
We can’t let the prejudices of others prevent us from working towards justice, equity, and unity. If they take away our joy and hope, they win.
4. Pray for Detachment
Above all, we need to be detached from the feelings, opinions, and behaviors of others. Although practicing detachment may be difficult for some people, we can ask God for assistance each day in our daily prayers. The following aid and assistance prayer was revealed by the Bab, the herald of Baha’u’llah — the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:
O MY God, my Lord and my Master! I have detached myself from my kindred and have sought through Thee to become independent of all that dwell on earth and ever ready to receive that which is praiseworthy in Thy sight. Bestow on me such good as will make me independent of aught else but Thee, and grant me an ampler share of Thy boundless favors. Verily Thou art the Lord of grace abounding.
5. Turn to the Spiritual World for Strength
As we strive to be detached and independent from everything except God, we find strength, joy, and peace in the spiritual world. Habits that aid our spiritual growth like prayer, meditation, and service soothe our hearts, sanctify our minds, and add untold grace into our lives.
Abdu’l-Baha explained that “the trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness. A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.”
When we remind ourselves that this physical reality is a temporary illusion, we won’t place as much importance on the minor irritants in our lives. We can’t waste precious energy that is needed to create real positive change in this world.
“As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say,” wrote don Miguel Ruiz. “You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others. …Then you can be in the middle of hell and still experience inner peace and happiness.”