Part Three of Five
Introduction: Don Miguel Ruiz was born in rural México, a descendant of the Toltecs, an ancient people who lived in the central valley of México. Their philosophy held that we live in a dream state, with the quality of our lives determined by how we dream. Most of us fail to transcend to a higher awareness, living with the belief that life must be composed of suffering. But we can change how we dream and achieve happiness. Discovering love and respect for one’s self is the beginning of that process. These essays are my reflections on Ruiz’s best-selling books, The Four Agreements and his book The Fifth Agreement.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
Why do we make assumptions? I believe we do so for the following reasons:
For security of self and others. We need guidelines, rules, regulations, boundaries, ethics, laws that will protect us from the chaos of unknowing. We need them in varying amounts, depending upon how independent-minded or anti-authoritarian we assume that we are. We are self-protective; we are afraid.
For identity. We each have what western psychiatry calls an “ego.” On the other hand, eastern spirituality posits the thought that there is no separate self, that all sensate existence is interconnected, and as such, is part of a higher self. Both western and eastern thinking, however, create an identity of self.
For purpose. We create our own thoughts about someone or something—for good or ill—to give us a purpose in life. Someone else’s purpose might seem purposeless to us, especially if it seems self-negating or community-negating. Still, it is a purpose, an “ultimate concern” (the theologian Paul Tillich’s term).
Let me tell you a personal story about making assumptions.
I was a perfect kid. A perfect student.
So one day, near the end of ninth grade, I was shocked and terrified when the principal of my junior high school sent a note to my teacher that requested my presence in his office.
The principal, Mr. Fognano, was not considered a friendly man by any means. And I knew that kids wound up in his office only because they had gotten into trouble. So when I was summoned to his office, I assumed the worst.
But how perplexed I was when, upon entering Mr. F’s office, I was greeted with a big smile. “Congratulations,” he told me. “You have been voted the outstanding boy in Suitland Junior High School.”
At any rate, sometimes assumptions can be totally wrong, and in being so, they can be totally debilitating, limiting our potential, creating a poor sense of “self.”
“The Fognano Syndrome” is what I call it: to assume the worst.
I imagine that we all have had our “Fognano” moments, some of us more frequently than others. But truly, we all have moments—many of them—when we assume things (good or bad) about people and events.
Think about a new relationship in your life, a romantic one, a professional one, a familial one, a friendly one.
Forgetting to practice Agreement Two (“Don’t Take Anything Personally”), you are aware that you are on your best behavior, weaving and dodging away from your desires to let yourself relax and “be yourself” by telling this new person what you really believe or wish.
We all do it. It’s called “trying to make a good first impression.” The only problem is this: that the person who is sitting directly across from you at Starbuck’s sipping her Caramel Macchiato while you indulge yourself with your Cinnamon Dolce Latte is also on her good behavior. Both of you are assuming that the other is assuming such and such, horrible things, sweet things. Neither of you is real. “Real” doesn’t happen until down the road.
We aren’t even “real” to ourselves (meaning beyond assumptions about our self and seeing our self for what we more approximate); until we are a bit more mature, thanks to experience and clear introspection. As Ruiz puts it: We have a fear of being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone else will judge us, victimize us, abuse us and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. That is the way the human mind works.
So how might we free ourselves of our assumptions? Don Miguel Ruiz tells us to ask questions of our self and of others, and to be willing to have others ask us questions. Even if the process can cause us stress because we are afraid of what we might learn, ask questions. If we want to get out of the dream we create—one of our illusions—and to gain clarity and freedom in life, we need to speak our truth and seek the truth. And to do so in the spirit of love.
Let me tell you a story about a group of people and how, over time, the assumptions they had about each other proved to be less than accurate.
I am in a novel-writing course on the first day of class. The professor is unkempt and smells of booze. He does not look like a success, but he introduces himself by saying that he received an Academy Award for screenwriting… fifty years ago. Then the others introduce themselves.
* An eighty-some-year-old man who is writing a novel about his experience as a soldier in World War II. He has been writing the book for two decades.
* A man in his thirties who is writing a science fiction novel and has written eight pages so far.
* An Asian woman in her fifties who says that her books are about her experience as an Asian woman adapting to life in the United States.
* A woman who is a retired librarian and an art aficionado who is writing an art-theft-murder mystery that takes place in Florence.
* A male hairdresser who announces that he is gay and wants to write about a gay cop who solves murder mysteries.
* A fifty-year-old female therapist who is writing a complex psychological novel that would involve a woman who is caught between two lovers, one male and one female.
* A twenty-something male who has had a script “optioned” by a television sit-com and knows that he is on the brink of literary greatness with his book about his life.
* Yours truly, a liberal preacher who desires to learn some writing techniques to improve his sermons, although he secretly desires to write a best-selling novel.
So we spent a couple of months together reading excerpts from each other’s books, sharing our comments, asking questions, speaking our truth. We went beyond being merely classmates and teacher, we became intimates. You see, we went beyond any initial assumptions we had had that first evening when we met. We read “between the lines,” that is to say, we went deeper into the character of each other. What each of us wrote showed another side to ourselves.
I cried in reading what the old soldier wrote about his dying comrades; I was shocked by the gory details of murder the gentle hairdresser wrote; I learned of the pain of cross-cultural adaptation from the Asian woman; I realized that the kind of science fiction the one guy wrote was brilliant and far beyond my understanding; I was fascinated by the detail the librarian came up with and with her ability to write great sex scenes; I was totally confused by the script-writer’s desire to create his own punctuation system; and the therapist’s characters bored me to death, despite an intriguing premise. And I? A mild-mannered, suburban preacher? I learned from others that I was not the serious writer of murder and mayhem I had hoped, but a preacher who wrote like a preacher. Truly, the assumptions we had made about others and about ourselves were seen as so superficial.
Oh, how we all make assumptions about others and our self—and not just about strangers, but about the people who are closest to us. And how we do it all the time! In effect, we can redo the dream we live, by applying that Don’t-Make-Assumptions Agreement that tells us to ask questions instead, and to be asked questions in determining what is real, what is possible, what is true.
NOTE: Don Beaudreau is our El Ojo Del Lago events editor, and has just completed his 11th book. His books are available on Amazon Books in hard-copy and Kindle versions.
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