Do You See What I See?

Don Miguel Ruiz writes, in the Agreement Don’t Take Anything Personally,

Everyone Lives in Their Own Dream

All people live in their own dream, in their own mind.  They are in a completely different world from the one[s] we [each] live in

The Agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally, may be the most difficult for the most people to follow because truly, we each live in a completely different world.  One example is the argument over reducing Social Security and Medicare.   Some legislators and many American citizens feel these programs have enough financial leeway that decreases can help balance our terrible economy. My life, my perspective is very different.  I live on less than $1,000 per month, and I am one of the lucky ones; I work part-time in a job I love, and I can afford basic food, warmth, and shelter.  A large percentage of our population is poorer than I.

Obviously, my perspective is quite different from that of a senator or citizen who supports cuts.  My example is extreme, and I believe these cuts will hurt me significantly, but it is my dream.  Every human being has a different perspective, and while I often band together with others whose dream is similar to mine, I cannot know what even my closest friend dreams.  How, then, could I ever hope to understand the perspective of those whose perspectives are polar opposites of mine?

This situation is quite apparent in the arguments my father and I have had over politics and the very issue of social care for those who can’t, or don’t take care of themselves.  I’ve spoken frequently with Dad about this, so this theory isn’t a shock to him.  Dad believes that Social Security Disability pays a large portion of its budget to people who don’t deserve it.   I agree with him — an enormous number of people commit welfare fraud.  They are not, however, the majority, as far as I can see.

So Dad used to send me emails which talked about welfare fraud, Medicare fraud,  Social Security fraud, but not in those exact words.   Increasingly, his emails forgot about the “fraud” part of the characterization, and criticized welfare, Medicare, Social Security and the people who use it.  That is what I saw — Dad was saying these unkind and un-based statements applied to me.  And regardless of the number of times he said, “But I don’t mean you!” I maintained that speaking about Disability recipients in these terms includes me, and every other one of us, rightfully or not.

Intellectually, I understand that my father believes he is not aiming his criticisms at me.  That made little difference to me — after years of asking Dad not to send these emails to me, I finally laid down the law — I wouldn’t open his emails if he continued to send that kind.  Dad complied with my obviously angry and defensive request, but it took years, ever since the presidential campaigns of 2008.

Now, I believe that, through Dad’s perspective, I am being completely unreasonable; that he would never say anything like that about me.  I don’t claim to be able to know what my father needs, feels, intends, loves, hates, opposes, supports, or even what is his favorite dessert.  That is Don Miguel Ruiz’ point with this Agreement.  I cannot know my dad’s dream, and even if he describes it to me in painful detail, I am still hearing him through my own perspective.  This is the case with the entire human race.  No one can know, really.

So, Ruiz offers an answer, in the form of an Agreement:  Don’t Take Anything Personally.  I did not at first believe this was possible.  My entire life was based on taking everything personally.  As my sister said, “The members of our family are narcissists with low self-esteem.”  I agree completely, (and thanks, M.)  My childhood, and teenage years, were littered with instances when I knew negative emotions were aimed at me personally.  I didn’t know any better, so I believed those judgments.   

As a result, I lived my adult decades believing that any statement, from anyone, that did not specifically praise me, was specifically aimed at dragging me down.  What an awful way to feel — and I didn’t try to get over it for years, because I valued that victim persona.  Poor me.  I believed, deep down in my heart, that if others didn’t either admire or pity me, they were putting me down.  As sister S. says, “Of course, [I] was the center of the universe.”

Time to wrap this up.  On a positive note, I had a sudden epiphany about this Agreement.  I’d known it in my head for years, but then suddenly, I knew it in my heart.  And I don’t mean suddenly, over the course of a few days; I mean suddenly, as quickly as a snap of the fingers.

Obviously, in many areas of my life, including the one I described above, I still struggle with the issue of taking things personally.  At least, now, I see what I’m doing, and I can look maturely at the fact that, while I am not there yet, I am aimed in the right direction.  I will continue to remind myself daily that I am not the center of the universe; that other people don’t focus their thoughts and opinions on and around my feelings.  And, each time I do this, the principle becomes a little stronger in my head.  No one lives in my life but me — no one knows my thoughts and feelings but me, and if I choose to tell others about those factors in my life, they will hear through their own dream, their own perspective.  Maybe, someday, I can get close to understanding completely.  I believe that can happen, and that is my real job.

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