Many years ago I was part of a group called, The Caring Community. Founded by a dear friend and colleague who was a facilitator and trainer in the area of human relations, the group was designed to bring diverse people together to spend time in community. (He defined community as a place where people felt valued, accepted, and connected.) This time in community was accomplished by way of our focus on personal growth and by regular participation in community service. Throughout our time together each of us contributed unique skill sets, experiences, and resources. One of these resources was a book suggested by a participant who found it to be of great value.
The Four Agreements, by Don Miquel Ruiz offers a powerful code of conduct to recognize and free us from blindly following self-limiting beliefs and practices. Each agreement is more of a direction than a goal. Followed conscientiously, they help diminish drama, reduce stress, and offer a personal context from which to make good decisions. In other words, it helps us to better hear others and ourselves outside of our habitual practices.
I chose to write about this book as a means of offering a way to mitigate the divisive, angry, and polarizing language, we hear daily: the sounds of ideas, attitudes, and emotions we feed ourselves and that both justify what we believe to already be true and that cause us to dig in to protect our perceptions. And while none of this is new in the history of mankind, it is more rampant and extreme than I have seen or felt in my lifetime. And what I’m not hearing are alternatives to address these differences with civility, compassion, and understanding.
(There are many other models and authors which offer ideas for how to listen to self and to others. I chose this one because it works best for me.)
To that end I offer the following taken from The Four Agreements:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
If we applied these agreements to our thinking and our practice, perhaps we might then hold the same conversations over the same issues with less anger and judgement and with the purpose of finding common ground rather than trying to convince others to abandon their perspective and see it our way.
I’d be interested to hear your viewpoints, any thoughts on The Four Agreements, or any books you may have read that you found to be a powerful influence in your life.
How Do You Heal a Country?
How do you heal a country? How do you protect your own ideals while accepting those of others who are diametrically opposed to your way of thinking and how do you avoid contributing to the overwhelming lack of civil discourse that can often erupt through conflicting expressions of what is right and wrong, factual or fiction? That seems to be where our country is stuck right now.
We have to heal and in order to do that we have to find a path to help us heal. Henry lays out a plan based on the integrity of our word and the desire to work things out. Mr Kraftowitz , my 7th grade English teacher, used to say that the mark of an intelligent person is not that he has a lot to say but that he listens! Something I often struggle with. I often find myself forming my next point In my head rather than listening to what the other person is saying. As a result I haven’t learned anything. I know I do this. I assume many others do as well, and instead of hearing we are talking passed each other resulting in nothing being achieved.
Are the civil wounds too great to heal? Are there things we actually can agree on- facts that both sides can agree are valid and necessary to take into account? Maybe once we can agree to that perhaps we can begin a true meeting of the minds. Currently, this seems to be particular tricky. We cling to the facts as we see them and can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see them the same.
I hate to admit that I tend to be a half empty glass kind of person. My personal experience was that if I didn’t expect much I wouldn’t be disappointed. And for a long time in my youth that served me well.
I guess that’s why I’m not sure Henry’s approach would work. One has to assume for it to work, both/all parties have to want to mend the gap, agree to be impeccable with their words and are both in search of common ground. My half empty glass wonders if those factors can become aligned. I sincerely hope it is possible because something has to happen for us to begin healing. Holding on to personal emotions, beliefs, and ideas in stubborn refusal to let go for fear of who knows what will only enlarge the wound and make civil discourse divide us more.
We Did Not Start the Fire
Before the introduction of the term, “Fake News”, I rode up in an elevator with my social psychology professor, who said: “There are no such things as facts”. He was making the point that all data are interpreted through the lens of the viewer. While there may not be ‘facts’, there’s no shortage of information. According to the Pew Research Institute in 2018, 68% of Americans suffer from news fatigue. Social media has exponentially added to this burst of ‘facts’.
In this time of tweeting, retweeting, and forwarding posts of like-minded opinions, I wonder whether anyone is interested in real discourse — lots of pots, lots of stirring. Hen has made a great point about active listening – and make no mistake, it requires discipline It seems rather that people are seeking confirmation of their own opinions. We’re becoming prisoners of our own ‘metadata’ defined by any one of a number of groups to which we identify.
Geo says that the passion invested in various opinions can prevent an understanding of another’s point of view. In order for rational discourse to occur, each of us needs to submerge our ‘need to persuade’ from the ‘need to repeat back’ someone else’s position so that they can feel understood. It is important to really listen rather than formulating a response while the other person is talking. Understanding does not equal agreement, but it may lead to new ideas and constructive action. The Four Agreements is a very insightful book as Hen describes. I’d also recommend David Brooks’ The Second Mountain, in particular, his work with diverse groups to formulate community actions.
Conflict management is messy. As Billy Joel sang: “We didn’t start the fire, it’s been always burning since the world’s been turning”. We ought to be sure that we are not the ones stoking the fire.