Last year a woman who had been babysitting for my son regularly for months didn’t show up one morning. At first, I thought I mistook the time and I called her, leaving a voice mail message. Later, I tried again. Once I realized she wasn’t coming at all, I sent a text asking her to let me know she was okay. I never heard from her.
At first, I tried to figure out what I had done wrong. I went over everything I’d said or done the previous times I’d seen her. Nothing came to mind. After a couple of days of this it occurred to me that maybe the reason she disappeared had nothing to do with me. I remembered The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz, especially the Second Agreement: 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.”
I decided to imagine a scenario that had nothing to do with me. I imagined my former babysitter got a great new job and forgot to tell me about it. In my mind, I wished her well and let it go. I stopped suffering in that moment.
The Second Agreement came to mind again recently when a friend told me of an experience she had with a book group. During a period of reading aloud, the leader of the group told my friend that she couldn’t listen to her read because “her voice was wrong.”
My friend was so upset. She was going over and over the encounter, wondering what she had done wrong and how she could fix it. She felt hurt and angry.
All I knew was that my friend’s voice wasn’t wrong and that the whole episode had absolutely nothing to do with her—it had to do with the woman who had spoken to her. Whatever thoughts that woman was having led her to experience my friend’s voice as “wrong.”
The only thing my friend could do was decide how she was going to respond to the woman—and I don’t mean by changing the way she read. She could tell this woman she was going to continue to read the way she always did, or she could decide to go to a different book group. She could not, however, get this woman to change the way she thought or experienced her reading voice.
I hope my friend felt better after our conversation about her book group, but I can’t be sure. Only she can decide whether or not she is going to take what was said personally.
For me, it was yet another lesson in the dangers of believing everything I think, especially when that thought is given to me by another person.
How often do you take things personally?