A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog titled “White and Black Magic”. Part of the blog focused on the perils of giving advice without understanding intention and without looking at personal motives. I relayed several examples when my opinions were not helpful and possibly painful.
One of my friends recognized herself in that blog and sent me the following:
I think one thing that is important to remember when we are the ASKERS of feedback is to TELL what kind of feedback we want, what we are ready to receive, how we want it. I think it's perfectly ok for a feedback asker to say, "I just want to know how this feels" or "tell me all good things about this because my heart can't handle anything else yet" or "tell me what you love this time around and next time we can dive into xyz".
As this demonstrates, we have to be intentional and impeccable when we give AND when we RECEIVE.
As Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “You don’t need to take everything you hear personally”.
One of the worst – and best – aspects of having a career as a writer is the need to ask for and receive feedback. Those reviews you all leave on Goodreads or Amazon are powerful. Some writers read the reviews religiously. Others, like me, mostly avoid them. But I am in a couple of critique groups and in that setting, I’m seeking comments. Good and Bad. For those of you who don’t write, it’s hard to describe how much it feels like you are asking someone to critique your child. I’m basically asking someone to say, “Your baby is ugly. Ugly ears. Ugly toes. Decent eyes. But that wart. It’s gotta go.”
When I ask someone to critique my writing, I’m asking this person to critique words and sentence structure.
But how often are we critiqued as people? I’m too fat, too tall, too bold, too eccentric, too honest, too manipulative, too too too. Those are personal attacks. (Yes, I know most people don’t mean to attack but isn’t that how it feels?)
How do we not take it all personally?
Most of us started to fill suitcases full of false beliefs before we could walk. Those suitcases become heavier and heavier. Sadly, most of the contents are false. “What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.”
I have to remember that every comment – good and bad and indifferent – is spoken by a person who has their own set of hopes, dreams and fears. They have suitcases weighing them down, accusing them, shaming them, damaging them.
As a writer, I can’t ignore readers. I depend on readers to help me write better stories and deeper characters. As a human, I often look to others to see situations from a different angle. But if all advice is given through someone else’s poor lenses, what do I do?
First, and this is critical, don’t make assumptions. “It is always better to ask questions than to make assumptions because assumptions set us up for suffering.”
Have you ever said something to your significant other that was completely innocuous but somehow became a big friggin’ deal?
Sadly, we have had this exact exchange. What did I assume about him?
Were any of those assumptions true? Likely no. My guess was that my husband came home from a long day. He was hungry. He wanted to eat. No judgments about me at all. No expectation of me at all. Just a tired, hungry man. But my assumptions led me to make some harsh statements which led to his being defensive (because he too was making assumptions). Suffering 101.
Let’s imagine if I’d not taken his comment personally and didn’t make assumptions.
If he was upset because he expected his little woman to have dinner on the table, it’s his responsibility to be honest about that and not my responsibility to assume anything. (Thankfully, my hubby would have been thrilled with margaritas and he values me because of me and not my level of production).
If we could learn to trust people to speak their honest truths, there would be no need for assumptions.
Read that again. If I can speak and live authentically, people won’t have to speculate about what I mean, what I feel, what I want. Imagine the games we would no longer have to play.
Until we live in an authentic world, have the courage to ask questions and seek understanding.
I know I’m beating a dead horse, but The Four Agreements is so clear and so right. We create our own hell by wrong words and wrong assumptions and false beliefs - about others and about ourselves. Imagine one day – or one conversation – where you are fully authentic. In this conversation, you state clearly what you need, want and feel. The other person will respond however they respond – you have no control over it. Remember their opinion belongs to them and is none of your business.
Imagine you have been authentic, and the person rejects/judges/blames/shames you. It’s not about you.
Authenticity in others forces our false beliefs to see the light of day. We refuse to look at our own junk, so we turn the spotlight back on others.
I make assumptions about the people around me. But I make more assumptions about myself. We are our own worst enemy. “Because we think everyone else will judge us, victimize us, shame us and blame us as we do ourselves.”
Remember the conversation above between a hungry husband and an assuming wife? What assumptions did I make about me?
“We also make assumptions about ourselves, and this creates inner conflict.” ~ The Four Agreements
All of those condemnations simply because my husband was hungry? Something is wrong with this picture. (ooops – another judgment)
One of the most remarkable elements of The Four Agreement is that the truth Ruiz presents tap into every single moment of every single day. The first three agreements are (in my own words):
(We’ll chat about The Fourth next week.)
I’ve seen three people today. Gabby, my trainer. Robin and Nelson, who were working out near me. How did I do honoring the three agreements?
Taking It Personally
I compared myself with Robin – and not kindly. I actually used the words ‘ugly’ and ‘fat’ against myself. I also know she’s in pharmaceutical sales so while I was beating myself up about my body, I reminded myself how smart she is.
First, I used the word attractive. That’s assuming my opinion of attractiveness is correct. It is not. I assumed Robin is smarter than me. How do you even define such a word and if I could define it, how could I measure Robin’s smartness?
Second, I assumed Nelson is less fit than me. How would I know? I’m not his doctor. I also assumed Robin works out as hard as me. How would I know? I don’t monitor her heartrate or her exertion level. Regardless, it’s none of my damn business.
I know what you’re thinking – what’s the big deal? And, okay, maybe this is a silly scenario, and perhaps I should have presented a vehement argument over politics. But we don’t create new habits by taking big bites. We make new habits by practicing and building up a stack of successes.
I can be more intentional with my words at the gym. I can catch myself when I spew black magic or take something personally or make assumptions. I can practice looking at my motives, understanding the false belief permeating my mind -- all while I do burpees.
I can carve a new set of grooves in my mind. One authentic minute at a time.
I can exercise this mind muscle while I do burpees. Did I mention how much I hate burpees and no amount of positive self-talk or white magic will make me like those!? There is not a sports bra good enough for burpees.
I realize I’m jumbling my pronouns. I, me, you, they, them, me, we, us. The pronoun is irrelevant. The truths are universal.
What assumptions have you made that caused suffering? How could have you have prevented that? Be specific, what questions could you have asked to gain more knowledge and understanding?
Take a minute to listen to yourself right now. You’ve just read a blog about how we treat ourselves and others. What did this stir up? Do you need to step a back and look at any false beliefs?
All quotes are from The Four Agreements by Ruiz.
Copyright 2022 June Converse, All Rights Reserved.