“When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz
“Have a nice day, I love you!” I cheerfully yelled to my husband as he left for work one morning. The door closed, and I was left standing in the kitchen to ponder what his silence might mean. Had I done something to make him mad? A myriad of reasons for him to ignore me ran through my mind, as I tended to my wounded young wife heart. That was eight or nine years before Ruiz wrote his brilliant book, The Four Agreements. If I had heard his words earlier, maybe I would have seen my husband for who he was and not taken his silence personally. Actually, it was easy for me to take most everything personally. It seems I had a lot of growing up and learning to do.
I know what you’re thinking, my husband just didn’t hear me. Wouldn’t that be great if it were the first thing that went through my mind? It wasn’t. I was young and still very much learning to accept a few facts in life.
When someone says, “Grow up!” what they really mean is Only infants are allowed to think the universe revolves around them, and you are no infant. It was Piaget (a Swiss psychologist well-known in education circles) who taught us that babies and young children think the world revolves around them. He called it egocentrism – the inability to consider or understand a perspective other than one’s own. It is one of several phases of childhood. While egocentrism appears to last until a person is 7-11 years old, it obviously reappears in the teenage years and is present for many of us for the rest of our lives.
It’s imperative for those of us who want to live well in this world to take a minute to examine how others are making us feel and why. As in the case of my husband, sometimes people don’t hear what we say — literally and figuratively. If they don’t understand our meaning, they turn it into what they do understand. If I tell you that your someone was really rude to me and let the door slam in my face, will you think I’m saying that person is an all-around bad person or that I think holding the door is polite and want other people to meet my expectations for good manners? It will take a little, or a lot of, effort to think through this process the next time someone leaves me feeling frustrated, but I believe that living well in the world is worth it.
Not only can other people not know what I’m expecting (nor should they necessarily care), but I don’t know what they are expecting or experiencing in life at the moment. If someone you care about dies suddenly, you are understandably very emotional and preoccupied thought-wise. Unless you wear a sign that says, Warning: Someone I love recently died, and I’m not myself, people won’t know and will often be offended that you didn’t meet their expectations of behavior. You can’t control their frustration any more than you can control the fact that you’re so sad. You simply have to be true to who you know you are, I believe, and hope they grow up a bit.
The final thing I’ve had to learn, albeit very slowly, is that not everyone will like me. Not everyone will like you, either. You might be like I am and do your best to be likable, or you might be one of those people who never give it a second thought. Either way, there will be people who find us appealing and pleasant to spend time with and people who don’t. There will be people who feel they have the right to say whatever they want on social media, and there will continue to be people I will choose to not engage because of how they make me feel. That, my friends, is progress. There was a time those people would have kept my stomach in knots. I know now, it’s a choice I get to make.
Ruiz says, “Don’t take it personally.” In fact, he says that we should take nothing personally. I am not that evolved. I already know I’m going to take some things personally. But the more you and I can pause, try to see people for who they are, and consider why we are letting someone else make us feel bad about ourselves, the healthier we will all be.