At the farm, we begin each circle by reviewing Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Often Sara asks the participants which agreement causes them to struggling the most. Agreements 1 and 4 are like breathing for me. If I am alive, I am practicing them. Agreements 2 and 3 have eluded me for 40 years now. Even now, after 2 years of intense effort, it takes all my concentration to even get close. Yesterday, as I contemplated the question of which is the most challenging, I finally decided that it’s the assumptions.
I have a high level of empathy, which allows me to relate strongly to what other people are thinking and feeling. I can interpret word choice, timing, tone, body language, and facial expressions exceptionally well and this gives me the ability to GUESS what is going on in other people’s heads. Sometimes my brain confuses my guessing with KNOWING.
Unfortunately, many of the people my brain thinks I know best are people that I hardly know at all. My parents and my siblings–people I used to read with high accuracy–now live far away and I don’t get to see or talk to them anywhere near as often as I would like to. When I spend time with them, I forget that I no longer know the intimate details of their lives, the minutia that inspires and motivates them.
I assume that I know why they do the things they do and why they say the things they say, but the truth is I am making rough guesses. Just like they are making rough guesses about what I am doing and saying. And when we forget to be curious, when we forget to clarify, it is easy to fall into old, unproductive, disconnected patterns of interaction. (Then we all get to struggle not to take things personally!)
My inter- and intra-personal skills are my superpower, but they are also my kryptonite. My empathy can help me move through the world, but it can also trip me up. It’s important for me to remember Agreement 3 and keep practicing it, because I want the joy and growth that comes from celebrating the different perspectives each person in my life brings, particularly when those people are so important to me.
I write this as a personal commitment to continue working on not making assumptions. If you catch me making assumptions, I give you permission to (gently) remind me of this commitment. I want to focus on curiosity and clarity in my relationships, not assumptions.