A friend once told me that to her, being kind was an ongoing journey and one that took practice. Just as with anything else – like becoming good at playing an instrument – becoming good at being kind took hard work. At the time, I hadn’t known what she’d meant. Now, I think I’m beginning to understand.
For one, I’m getting a better sense of what it means to be kind. It’s much more than being polite. It’s much more than being friendly or cheerful. It’s much more than occasionally doing nice gestures – writing someone a thank you note or offering someone help. It’s more the attitude and the spirit with which we embrace each day. It’s made up of as many or more mental activities as it is physical deeds. And it starts on a personal level, with the way we treat ourselves.
In my journey towards being kinder, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz has been an unexpected guide.
His book is premised on the idea that “as children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs, but we agreed with the information that was passed to us” as “the only way to store information is by agreement.”
As children, we gather all sorts of beliefs – and make all sorts of agreements, many of which are not good for us and many of which are based in fear. Ruiz instead proposes four new agreements, which, if adopted, ‘will help us break those agreements that come from fear and deplete our energy.’
The four agreements he outlines are:
1. Be Impeccable with Your Words: 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 neglect.
Though simple, I have found these four agreements to be incredibly powerful. In my case, I have found that my kindness stops at the boundary of fear. I am kind until I fear becoming hurt, until I fear that I will be mocked or not liked, until I fear I will be abandoned. And once caught up in fear, it is very difficult for me to be kind, both to others as well as to myself. The Four Agreements help to scare off and to calm the fear.
I have found ‘Don’t take anything personally’ to be huge. Because at it turns out, unchecked I can take a great deal of things personally. But with reflection, Ruiz is correct in that nothing is truly personal. The hurt, as well as the love that others give unto you, is a product of that other person – their emotions, beliefs, thoughts, and fears. And what you give unto others is also then a product of yourself, the hurt a product of your own fears, emotions, and insecurities – and the love you give to others also a product of your emotions, beliefs, and moods. With the realization that nothing is personal can come a tremendous release of pressure. When nothing is personal, we can worry less about pleasing others, because others are out of our control to please. We can instead simply be ourselves.
Also helpful has been the deceptively simple ‘Always do your best.’ It is both a reminder to motivate myself into effort as well as a reminder to be compassionate towards myself on days when my best may not be as good as I had been hoping for.
If you fall, do not judge. Do not give your Judge the satisfaction of turning you into a victim. No, be tough with yourself. Stand up and make the agreement again. “Okay, I broke my agreement to be impeccable with my word. I will start all over again. I am going to keep The Four Agreements just for today. Today I will be impeccable with my word. I will not take anything personally, I will not make any assumptions, and I am going to do my best.”
If you break an agreement, begin again tomorrow, and again the next day. It will be difficult at first, but each day will become easier and easier, until someday you will discover that you are ruling your life with these Four Agreements. And, you will be surprised at the way your life has been transformed.
Becoming who we want to be is a journey – many times a long one – but I am consoled by Hannah Arendt‘s, “Men do not become just by knowing what is just but by loving justice. Love is the soul’s gravity.” I take this to mean that we can and eventually will embody the qualities that we love and admire, whether it be courage, gentleness, honesty, or kindness. And as with anything else, practice makes perfect.