“Take nothing personally,” says one of the Four Agreements. It’s the only one I don’t agree with. The other three:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t make assumptions
Always do your best
are fine guidelines for an active, productive life. On the Totec Spirit website, “take nothing personally” is explained:
“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 would like that to be true, but others do act on words meant personally, and we, as the receiver of words, also take them personally.
We cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility in bullying or insulting people. Words hurt and they last. Therapists offices are filled with people working through words that hurt and left scars. You can argue that if they hadn’t taken those words personally, they would not be scarred, but you can’t expect a child to not take parents personally. That’s what parents are for: to be believed, to give example, to be a personal model.
A better approach would be to act as if everyone takes your words seriously. Personally. We’d have to be more careful, choose our words more carefully. Phrases like, “don’t be so sensitive,” and “get a sense of humor” are words intended to hurt, to make us wrong. You can walk away from them, but there is a fine line between allowing a bully to bully and standing up for yourself.
Look at the power of Donald Trump to stir up anger and resentment. His following comes directly from people taking personally what he says. His followers believe him, think he will make their lives better. That is taking words very personally.
I want people to take my words personally. When I give my word, say I will deliver something, stand up to teach, it’s much more than my words, it is my honor and reputation on the line.
Someone at work makes an offhand comment, like, “I’d like you on my team, but I’m not sure you’d be a good fit,” it is statement that is meant to be taken personally. The lingering doubts, emotions, and damage done by words, even careless ones, are personal. They affect us.
The other side is also true. Praise, compassion, a kind sentence–I want to take those personally, too. If someone praises my integrity, I don’t want to think, “it’s just business, they don’t mean it.” Seeing how others react is valuable feedback, one that can help us grow.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who cares about words.