A few months ago, a close friend recommended The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. It suggests four amazingly simple imperatives as a code of personal conduct that, Ruiz says, is the secret to a happy life:
· Be impeccable with your word.
· Don’t take anything personally.
· Don’t make assumptions.
· Always do your best.
I’m pretty sure that I was led to this book specifically to prepare me for what went on in my life last week. I could tell you how a piece of gossip had unintended consequences; how that gossip destroyed trust among numerous people; how several players leapt forward from one solitary fact, racing down roads of wild speculation that had no foundation in reason; and how the target of the gossip was probably the only person in this story who actually did their best, with all the limits that allows for, and got crucified for it.
Call me a convert. I got briefly trapped in the flames, and after I got over the shock, I touched all my usual bases: guilt, self-loathing, the crushing load of failure. But I held onto this: in one very important way, I had done the right thing. I didn’t set the fire, but it burned anyway; caught holding a match, I was falsely labeled an arsonist by the person who’d thrown the cigarette into the brush. I had been betrayed, and the more I turned it over in my head, the angrier I got.
Slowly I realized that the resulting casualties could all have been avoided had anyone involved simply followed those four little rules. I dreamed of revenge, but knew that such an attempt would hurt me more than anyone; I would be waging a battle that would have no winner.
And so I let go. This is so unlike me that I hardly recognize myself. But one of the remarkable things about human beings is our capacity to learn and grow. Often our best shots at personal development get lost when we fail to see them for what they are. The fire may burn down a swath of forest and even a few houses, but it clears the landscape for new growth.
I’m still pretty disgusted, but I have gained complete clarity – I know, finally, on so many levels, what is wrong with this picture. I can live with my imperfections, because I’m doing my best – to keep those four ideas in my head and to find in my heart compassion for the things buried deep in the embers that cause us all to hurt each other so badly.