The Art of Not Taking it Personally

Don Miguel Ruiz, in one of his Four Agreements, wrote, “Don’t take it personally.”  This is a variation on a standard theme within spirituality circles and frankly, I’ve had quite a problem with it. When you get into a situation where someone is abusing you, or calling you names, or bullying a child, how do you not take it personally?

Or, to bring it closer to home, when your partner is being an ass, how do you not take it personally? If you have a hubby who decides he would rather watch baseball than go to dinner with you? What about a sister who tells you that you look fat in that outfit? Your best friend doesn’t return your phone call for a week? Your boss is just plain being a dick?

This is where I have been struggling. It’s all very well and good to say to not take things personally, but how do you reconcile trying to live that without letting someone treat you like a doormat?

And then today, while walking the dog (and I really do seem to always get these periods of illumination during the dog’s elimination), it became clear to me why I can’t take it personally.

See, I have spent a great deal of time over the past couple of years moving into a place on non-judgment. I think it is a process, and it takes practice. For example, when someone comes into the room wearing a strange outfit, and the people I am with make fun of it, I do not. I don’t think anything about it. In fact, I understand that the judgment speaks way more about the person making fun than it does about the person wearing the original outfit. And I have been pretty fond of trying to help others come to a place of non-judgment. For example, in a friend’s recent Facebook thread, there was a heated discussion about people being bothered by seeing adults out in public in pajama pants. Well, I countered that we could never know the whole story as to why they are wearing pajama pants, so we can’t judge. Maybe they have a deathly ill child and had to run to the pharmacy for medicine. Maybe they’ve recently had surgery and can’t wear regular pants. *MAYBE* it’s none of our damn business why they are wearing pajama pants and we should be better people and not judge them. (But see what I am doing there? I’m judging the people who judge.) As I said, it is an on-going process and I think only completely evolved religious masters can ever get to a place of complete non-judgment… after all, as long as there are still rapists and child abusers and people who torment animals, I will still have judgment in my heart.

-But- I think I have come a long way in my non-judgment and I think it has helped me to be a better friend. I don’t care what my friends wear or what they do for a living or how much money they make or whether or not their houses are clean.

So how does this on-going practice relate to not taking things personally? Well, it finally hit me today. It really isn’t about me. If someone tells me I look ugly in my outfit, that says absolutely nothing about me. I haven’t changed one bit from the moment before they said it to the moment after. *THEY* are the ones who have changed, by speaking in unnecessary cruelty. And I don’t know why they are like that… perhaps they’ve had a bad day. Perhaps they feel as if they look terrible today. Perhaps they are just nasty. The point is, I don’t know. I can’t know. None of us can ever truly know the entire depth of another person’s mind and heart. Heck, some days, I don’t know why *I* do everything I do… let alone anyone else. So, in the spirit of non-judgment, I must also put myself into the mind frame of not judging someone when their behavior goes against my own comfort.

Now, does that mean that you should just put up with someone who acts like an asshole to you? No, definitely not. Just because you are trying to be non-judgmental doesn’t mean you have to live with someone who treats you like crap or remain friends with someone who is always trying to drag you down. You make a choice. Are the good parts of the friendship worth the bad parts? I have gotten rid of friends who seem to do nothing but complain. I’m not going to judge them… perhaps they have valid reason for always being unhappy. But I prefer to choose my happiness and being around negative people makes it more difficult.

You can make your own decisions based on other people’s actions, but you can’t control their actions. I was just having this conversation with my bestie the other day. I do not like to talk on the phone, so unless it is an emergency, I am probably not going to call you back, maybe not for weeks. Text me, Facebook me, email me, whatever. I just really don’t like to spend much time on the phone. You can take it personally, or you can practice non-judgment and understand that that is just the way that I am. You can then choose to accept it and stay in my life in a NON telephoney kind of way, or choose NOT to accept it and cut me out of your life. Either way, we are each being responsible for our own decisions and we are not taking it personally! Just understand that no matter what, you cannot fully understand the reasons for a persons actions.

You can carry this over into your job, too. If a customer is being irritable, remind yourself not to take it personally. Practice the art of non-judgment. Remove yourself from the situation and remind yourself, in a non-judging sort of way, that their behavior has really nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.

You really do get out of life what you put into it. But you must be doing it for yourself. You cannot change someone else’s life, you can only change your own.

Non-judgment, personal responsibility, and not allowing others to dictate your life all fall in the same space. Removing your ego from the equation allows for better life decisions. Of course, I’ve read all of this stuff and I have tried to absorb it. But I don’t think it really means anything until it sinks in all of a sudden while walking the dog…. BAM! Lightning strike. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out.

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4 thoughts on “The Art of Not Taking it Personally”

  1. Beth, you put a lifetime of wisdom into very few, but powerful, words! Bravo, my friend. It resonates with me totally. You got it! Be happy in spite of those who may not be. Thanks for the excellent blog. I really enjoy your writing.

  2. This is brilliant. With some certain very heated discussions going on, I found myself in a lot of similar situations – judging someone about their judgement of someone else! What a challenge! Thank you for the reminder that it is a journey. Love love love.

  3. I don’t live in a world or have friends who make fun of others when they enter a room or at any other times. So I can’t relate to that. I wouldn’t associate with such people, period.

    But I’m not on the non-judgmental bandwagon, regardless, and I would find being so inclined unnecessarily exhaustive.

    I don’t see the point of criticizing others so I avoid that — and if you limit non-judgmental to not making disparaging remarks, I agree with you.

    But to go beyond that supplants the right and need we have to draw distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable behavior in others. That’s something that requires coming to sensible conclusions based on the information at hand.

    That’s judging.

    And whether you choose to use the word or not — because thinking of yourself as non-judgmental gives you peace of mind — it might change the semantics but it doesn’t alter the fact. You weighed the pros and cons, you made a decision, you ended a friendship. It means you made a judgement call. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    Each of us has only 24 hours in the day and those who don’t, won’t, or can’t rely on an instant assessment of others in order to choose whom to welcome into our lives or pass by end up with too many of the wrong people and no time for the right. Looks, voice, attire, hygiene, laugh, walk, fragrance, attraction, distraction, turn-on, turn-off, etc. Is how we judge others. It’s simply the nature of things.

    My mother taught me that the person who has no enemies has no friends. That involves taking stands and sometimes being unpopular. But it also reaps long term relationships of value. The goal is to be kind, honest, true and to do good.

    Essentially, it’s never what not to be. It’s always what to be.

    In my opinion.

  4. Sometimes taking things personally is warranted. There is a scene in “You’ve Got Mai” where Joe is telling Kathleen that his store driving her store out of existence was business and shouldn’t be taken personally. They have the following exchange….
    Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.
    Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
    Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
    Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

    Being non-judgmental is wonderful but I have learned to temper it with a dash of reality. If John Q Public wants to go to Wal-Mart in his PJ’s that is all well and good. Nothing to do with me. If I invite that same person to my home for a party and they arrive in that outfit I’m going to take it that they did not have enough respect for me or my guests to make an effort. That is personal.

    There is a fine line that must be walked. There are times when acceptance of another’s flaws and behaviors is great. There are times when another’s blatant disrespect must be take personally because if you do not take it personally you can put yourself and those you care most about in danger.

    Be well and live your life in a way that makes you happiest but be careful of the sharks in the world.

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