Some years back I read the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. Because it was a popular book it made its way into the American consciousness. Lots of people I either knew or had casual conversations with would refer to one of the Agreements; at least back in the late 1990s. The first of the Four Agreements is to “be impeccable with your word.” Simply, this Agreement urges us to recognize that our words have power, and thus we should use them with “truth and love.” Back when the book was on the best seller list and I was very familiar with each Agreement, I found myself consciously attempting to honor each one. I was good for a while; I was conscientious about being a sincere work in progress. But eventually, I must say, in time I reverted back to typical, and even negative, behavior. No one was quoting from the book anymore, or sharing what Agreement they were struggling with. The concept was no longer relevant. Something else snatched our attention away from awareness. Timing wise, I’d say it was the Internet. Slowly but surely we went from sharing too much information to sharing too much of ourselves.
I never arrive first, and worse never arrive on time. But I was waiting for someone I was to meet at a café in Mid-City. The entrance was pretty packed. The holidays were finally over and the Yuletide carols season was a vague memory. It’s amazing how quickly that happens, as if the holiday had never even arrived. It’s now a few days before Martin Luther King Day. Swift, time is. Several young women and a male were standing nearby. Eventually I became aware of their gossiping about a famous person. Full disclosure: this entertainer—and the person’s name has no real meaning to this story—is not someone I am particularly fond of, and reasons are beside the point. As the gossiping ensued, I found myself engaged in their judgments of this actress, and chuckled to myself at some of the things they were saying about her. At some point I slipped my book in my bag because their lively conversation was a distraction. Before long I realized that I was actually behaving as badly as they were. I might not have been “badmouthing” the actress; still, I was amused and got caught up in their judgments and sometimes harsh comments about her by merely listening and nodding, and thinking, that’s so true! I took notice how they dressed (skinny jeans, booties, and the tops and sweaters that typically hang on racks at stores like Forever 21; the young man clad in the L.A style for men his age). They were late 20s, early 30s, maybe. At some point I began to feel uncomfortable. Some of their comments were hateful. Someone in the group said something about an interview on a program the previous evening, and she said, “I’m going to tweet about it,” and proceeded to tweet from her iPhone. Her friends mimicked the idea. They each fired off tweets and laughed accordingly when they were posted on the Twitter website. This began to get petty. Ugly. Evil. Mean. Unkind.
I moved away from the area where they were standing, because I was not proud of myself at that moment; that I was getting caught up in their judgments of this young woman. While my intentions were not to go as far as I had, I did get caught up nonetheless. I laughed in areas that I thought were funny and even nodded when I was in agreement about negative remarks that were made about the actress’s hair, her looks, her shape. The First Agreement is about making every effort not to engage in speaking unfavorably about another human being, and likewise yourself. (Hmmm, Twitter would be out of business.) But I failed to recall–I failed to learn to use–that principle. Whatever I did learn was superficial. Looking closer at that experience in the café, I sincerely believe now it’s because in reality when I was trying really hard to adapt to the Agreements, it was under false pretense. Of course at the time I read the book I thought I was very committed to living my life based on non-judgment; to not personalized things people say or do; to not assume by understanding that each person’s perception is based upon where they are on their particular journey; to do my best with who I am and where I am at any given time in my life. But what I learned that afternoon was that, despite the work I’d done all those years ago, I had reverted back to behavior I would find unfavorable in someone else. I didn’t slip or forget. While I adopted those Agreements because I truly believed in them, I also trust now, many years later, that the book was such a huge success and that might have been in part why I tried really hard to live by the Agreements. It was a cultural experience, let’s say.
Dr. Phil has this saying, ‘You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.’ Now that I am aware of this, I have challenged myself to start all over again, beginning with the First Agreement, and to revisit the book. I shouldn’t have to tell someone I am impeccable with my word. It should be demonstrated by how I speak of myself and how I speak of others.