Updated: Jul 5, 2021
For those of you who may be reading my Blog for the first time, I’m in the third of a series drawn from The Four Agreements – a book by Don Miguel Ruiz who asserts that each of us, beginning at birth, was indoctrinated into the ways of a collective dream by our parents, our friends, our schools, our educators, our churches and yes, our media and social media.
And the ways of this collective dream would teach us what clothes to wear, what languages to speak, what friends to accept, what parts to shave. The ways of this collective dream would demonstrate how to relate to the so-called opposite gender, and how to relate to the so-called same gender; how to relate to these people over here (which can mean any number of things), and how to relate to those people over there (which can mean any number of things). The ways of this collective dream would provide the foundation for our values, the core for our morality. The ways of this collective dream would seek to define the height of our personal worth, the reach of our personal potential.
And if you don’t believe me, just think about how the collective dream of the 1950’s would seek to define the height of personal worth for non-whites. And just think about how the collective dream of the 1950’s would seek to define the reach of personal potential for women. The ways of this collective dream would infuse our concept of the very universe in which we live - as friendly or hostile, as for you or against you, as Helen Keller’s “daring adventure, or [as] nothing at all.”
And because we, as children, quite simply didn’t know any better, each of us adopted this collective dream as our own, at which point the outer dream became the inner dream or what the author would term a Personal Book of Law, all part of a self-perpetuating process he calls the Domestication of Humans.
Now, the problem with this Personal Book of Law is that it’s brimming with lies. Entire lives have been constructed on Books of Law which tell us that if someone over there gets more, we over here get less; that it’s a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest world defined by scarcity and ruled by competition.
Entire lives have been constructed on Books of Law which tell us that humanity fits neatly into one of two genders; that the full spectrum of humanity can truly be reduced to two fundamental categories based entirely upon whatever pieces and parts happen to be visible on one’s front side. I could call this the Archie Bunker Book of Law – you remember Archie sitting at the piano with Edith longing for the days when, “Girls were girls and men were men. Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.”
Entire lives have been constructed on a celebrated Book of Law which tells us that we’re here to pay dues by going to the same, soul-squashing, creativity-crushing, mind-melting job, every day, every week, every year, so that we - someday in the distant future - might finally collapse into that Lazy Boy chair with a can of beer in one hand and a remote control in the other, ready for a glassy-eyed eternity in front of the fishing channel, watching our wrists slowly turn green under the band of some gold-plated retirement watch.
Entire lives have been constructed on Books of Law which would have us believe that our ways, that our systems, that our people, that our geographies, that our religions are, quite simply, superior. All of us grew up learning that no one does it (whatever it is) the way we do it here in the south, or here in the east, or here in the desert, or here in the mountains. Most of us grew up learning that no one does it (whatever it is) the way we do it.
Yes, the problem with this Personal Book of Law is that it’s brimming with lies, and when the wisdom of our heart challenges these lies, (in other words, when the wisdom of the heart challenges a world defined by scarcity and ruled by competition, when the wisdom of the heart challenges a humanity defined by whatever parts happen to be visible on one’s front side), the human finds himself, herself, themselves at a choice point.
And yet again, the author encourages us to press ahead saying, “If you want to live a life of joy and fulfillment, you have to find the courage to break those agreements.”
And the author sets forth four new agreements which are designed to do just that – to assist each of us in finally breaking the false agreements of our domestication, in finally releasing the fearful fiction of our ancestors, agreements which saturate the pages of our respective Books of Law.
Number one: Be Impeccable with Your Word. Be “without sin in your speech” by using the power of the word (a concept which is widely explored in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, by the way), by using the power of the word to cast spells of light and truth.
Number two: Don’t Take Anything Personally.
The problem, according to the author, is that as part of the domestication process, you developed the arrogant assumption that everything is about you.
And the solution, according to the author, is that it’s not. Everything is not about you.
In fact, this agreement offers that nothing other people do is about you. It’s about them. Their opinions are reflections of their own inner dreams, reflections of their own Books of Law; that they live in worlds completely apart from the one you know. This agreement offers that what other people say, what other people do, and the opinions other people give are reflections of their agreements.
Which brings us to Number Three: Don’t Make Assumptions.
Now, this is a fun one because let me tell you, I can make up some stories!
A congregant leaves before the service is over and I conclude, “So-and-so is mad at me!”
The cashier at the carwash gives me change and I conclude, “So-and-so has a crush on me!”
Someone waits “too long” to respond to my text message and I conclude, “So-and-so is offended,” or, “So-and-so is swamped,” or, “So-and-so is disinterested,” or, “So-and-so has fallen and she can’t get up!”
You invite me to your house for the big get-together and my mind fashions a dozen reasons why you did.
You don’t invite me to your house for the big get-together and my mind fashions a dozen reasons why you didn’t.
Yes, this third agreement is a fun one. It reminds me of words offered by Guatama Buddha, “Do not make assumptions about others - a person is destroyed by holding judgements about others.”
It reminds me of words offered by the Prophet Muhammad, “Beware, for assumption is the falsest of speech.”
It reminds me of words offered by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, “If you don’t want them making up stories about you, don’t make up stories about them.” (That’s a paraphrase, of course.)
It seems to me, yet again, that even through the cumbersome and inadequate words of our respective traditions, truth rises. Truth rises.
Mr. Ruiz continues, and I quote, “We have the need to understand everything in order to feel safe. It’s not important [that] the answer is correct - the answer itself makes us feel safe.
I guess this is why so many cling to their sweeping “answers,” if you will, about women, in response to renewed conversations about gender. I guess this is why so many cling to their sweeping answers about those of whatever skin color, in response to renewed conversations about race. I guest this is why so many cling to their sweeping answers about Muslims, about Christians, about gays, about the rich, about the poor, about the young, about the old – the list of ridiculosity really has no end, you see – I guess this is why so many to cling to their sweeping answers about virtually everyone in response to renewed conversations about religion, orientation, age and so forth.
If you’ve been here awhile, you’ve heard me say it this way: that it’s easier for some to cling to the comforts of a tidy lie, than it is to explore the vulnerabilities of a messy truth. I can think of no richer arena than religion for this dynamic. At the moment your personal book of law about religion begins to fail you, there comes an endless array of souls eager to sell you a new one, wrapped in self-righteousness and complete with easy-to-understand rules which will completely absolve you of any meaningful, inner participation in your spiritual life whatsoever. The fine print offers a long list of conditions and exclusions, of course, all yours for the low, low price of a mindlessness.
I might argue that if God didn’t want you to use your brain, God wouldn’t have given you one.
“We have the need to understand everything in order to feel safe.”
So, we have the tendency to make assumptions about everything. We make assumptions about what others are doing. We make assumptions about what others are thinking. We make assumptions about what others are feeling.
It plays out something like this: we make the assumption, then we take the assumption we’ve made personally, then we respond to the fantasy we’ve created with words which are, more-often-than-not, less than impeccable. We respond with words which are, more-often-the-not, something of a dark spell.
We make the assumption, then we take the assumption we’ve made personally, then we respond to the fantasy we’ve created, over and over and over. And it’s this same, time-honored sequence that has left generations of spouses sleeping on couches, generations of friendships abandoned, generations of partnerships dissolved, generations of dreams unfulfilled, even generations of people at war.
The author writes, and I quote, “All the sadness and drama you’ve lived in your life was rooted in making assumptions and taking things personally.” And he continues with a promise, “The day you stop making assumptions, you will communicate cleanly and clearly, free of emotional poison.” He boldly goes so far as to assert that, “If all humans could communicate in this way, there would be no wars, no violence, no misunderstandings. All human problems would be resolved if we could just have good, clear communication.”
So, we arrive at the obvious question: If we are willing to entertain the possibility that this is true, or even if we are willing to entertain the possibility that there is truth in this, then why do we continue to make assumptions in the first place?
And the answer is twofold.
Why do we continue to make assumptions in the first place?
Because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.
In our need to understand everything, we’ve gained the ability to adopt quick answers but we’ve lost the ability to explore good questions.
And, why do we continue to make assumptions in the first place?
Because we don’t have the courage to make requests.
And so it is that we eventually find ourselves saying things like, “Well, how was I supposed to know that?” and, “If you loved me, you would just know.” and, “Who are you anyway?” and, “I don’t think I know you anymore.” and, “Well, I sure didn’t see that coming.” ultimately, because we don’t have the courage to ask.
And if this dynamic wreaks such havoc in our individual relationships across the Thanksgiving table, just imagine the damage it can do in our collective relationships across the divides of culture and religion and geography.
And if courage is the problem, maybe we can consider that courage is the solution. Maybe that can be something of an affirmation for you. I am courageous for truth!