I am always amazed how much needless drama we create for ourselves and for others around us by taking things personally.
You know how it goes.
Someone says or does something that hits a nerve. We take offense and say something back. Something spur-of-the-moment, intended to injure.
A vicious cycle is born.
Or maybe we don’t respond at all and instead silently seethe. The poisons build within, fed by our inner diatribe –
She’s got some nerve!
He’s so inconsiderate!
What a jerk!
How many relationships are ruined this way? How many otherwise beautiful days are poisoned?
This same process plays out on a broader scale in families, in churches, in companies, between nations.
So much hurt, so much drama, adding to the collective weight of suffering in the world. All because we human beings are so darn thin-skinned.
In his book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz gives four principles for creating a life of peace and happiness.
One of those principles is “don’t take anything personally.”
Note that it doesn’t say not to take some things personally. It says not to take anything personally.
“When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others,” the agreement reads, “you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
For a long time in my life, I did exactly the opposite. I took pretty much everything personally, and suffered terribly as a result.
Someone would say or do something and it would affect me for days. My emotional reactions were like the weather: I had no control over them.
Every time this happened, I unknowingly was allowing myself to become a victim. I was giving away my power.
Over time I learned not to take things so much to heart. And my life changed forever.
The Four Agreements teaches that nothing that others say or do is because of us. Rather, it’s a projection of their own reality, their own fabricated dream.
Maybe they’re having a bad day.
Maybe they’ve lost their job, their house, their dog.
Maybe they have a really bad headache.
Maybe they’re immature. Careless. They don’t understand the power of their words.
Maybe they’re intimidated by you for some reason that even they don’t understand.
There are a thousand different reasons why someone says or does something. The point is, what they do or say it is up to them. How we interpret and react to it is up to us.
Most of the time we aren’t even aware why we react to things. The process happens unconsciously based on old mental programs that have been running unexamined since our childhood.
The key to peace and personal freedom is to bring that box of old unexamined programs into the light of conscious awareness.
In my case, I simply got fed up with living in emotional turmoil and decided not to take things so personally.
Am I perfect at it? No. I can still be reactive, especially when I’m driving Route 78 in New Jersey being tailed by trucks that think they’re race cars.
But generally speaking, when someone says or does something today that hits a nerve, I make a conscious decision:
Is my peace worth getting all roiled up about what this person is saying or doing?
Most times I say no and let it go.
It’s just not worth ruining my peace. Life is too short, too precious.
Does that mean we go about our lives as unfeeling, insensate robots?
Quite the opposite, I find that not taking things personally makes me more caring, more compassionate, more effective in my interpersonal dealings … because I am approaching life from a foundation of understanding and compassion, rather than from defensiveness.
What gets under your skin? What have those moments taught you about yourself?
Let me know your thoughts.