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Starting With #1

Thoughts on The Four Agreements

By Judey Kalchik Published 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 4 min read
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I grew up learning to count to 10, and that verbal climb seemed so steep and difficult to master!

Later I went to 'Saturday School' for catechism, and learned there were 10 Commandments. (Later still I saw that they had been made into a movie, and the publishing of these commandments were pretty complicated. That's a different thing altogether.)

The 10 Commandments, I was taught after I'd stopped being a Catholic and became a member of a 'non-denominational fundamentalist gathering' (Plymouth Brethren), were put in place to direct people to the need for God, since the ability to conduct oneself perfectly was beyond a mortal human. Still, we were to do our best to hold ourselves to them, and to confess in acts of contrition when we failed. I failed a lot. 10 is tough. Especially these 10.

I was relieved to read, in the New Testament, that Jesus instructed His disciples that there were TWO Great Commandments:

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He [Jesus] said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

— Matthew 22:35–40

Considering there are only two of them, you'd think that they would be something we could all remember and follow with very little trouble. And yet, many fail... and certainly I count myself among them.

The Four Agreements

The book, The Four Agreements, written by Don Miguel Ruiz, centers on the teachings of the 16 words that make up the Four Agreements:

  1. The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
  2. The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best

I'm limiting this piece to some thoughts about the First Agreement.

~

"Be Impeccable With Your Word"

On the surface this might look like a different way to phrase Commandment #9 "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor", which is generally taught as the forbidding of lying and idle gossip.

But the ninth commandment is specifically outward-focused, and this First Agreement is, in its simplicity, more inclusive.

  • We honor our commitments: we do what we say we'll do, no false promises.
  • We don't use words as weapons: no blaming, lying, gossiping, criticizing, or complaining.
  • We don't use our words against ourselves: no self-blame, guilty internal scripts, unkind judgements.

It may seem easy not to lie about your neighbor. If it's too hard you could always go off-grid and live a hermetic life, separate from any neighbor, and remove the temptation.

But that would leave you with the one person that couldn't get away from you, wouldn't it? It would leave you all alone with yourself. I don't know about you, but I am pretty hard on myself, if I do say so myself.

  • Failure to meet basic standards!
  • No living up to my potential!
  • Poor personal choices!
  • Lack of motivation!
  • You ate THAT?!
  • You wore THAT!?
  • Get more sleep. Get more exercise! What's wrong with you?!

Even when it comes to my writing: You should write more! Write less! Write better! Read more! Comment more! Have more images! Have less images! Cite more sources! Be funnier! What are you laughing at?!

By Sahand Babali on Unsplash

(gratuitous kitten photo)

Overcommitment is real. I know that. I DO that. If you know me, you know I have multiple Facebook groups, writing platforms, social media presences, hobbies, and the like.

I greet every new problem or issue with "I wonder if they've thought of..." and "I could..." and "We'll figure it out." And then I whip myself up into a lather because I will hold myself to my word.

Being impeccable with my word must also include factoring me into what I say. Is volunteering for that-thing good for me? Have I considered that I need sleep? Have I asked myself to slow down before committing my time and my promise?

My Three Takeaways From the First Agreement

1 )Think before speaking. I found a quote attributed to Rumi that describes passing your words through three gates before saying them:

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.

At the first gate, ask yourself, 'Is it true? '

At the second ask, 'Is it necessary? '

At the third gate ask, 'Is it kind?

I've also seen an addition to this, attributed to Sathya Sai Baba:

"Does it improve the silence? "

2) My words are more than audible. I've chosen to spread my words through my writing, and being impeccable with my words extends there, too.

  • Thinking before I comment
  • Not always acting on the impulse to be 'clever' or 'right'.
  • Examining my words for truth.

3 ) Use affirmations, for others and myself. Words can wound; they can hurt, cripple, and staunch growth. The idea that can 'never hurt' you is just a line in a nursery rhyme. Here, I'll rewrite it to be more truthful:

Sticks and stones CAN hurt your bones, and words may never leave you.

~~

Please consider leaving a comment. Is this an Agreement that comes easily to you?

Once my thoughts on the Second Agreement are live, I'll link them here. You can subscribe to me for free and my latest posts will show up in your Notifications, so you won't miss anything!

The book is widely available at your local library, bookstore, or online at @Bookshop.org (a great alternative to using Am@Zon)

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About the Creator

Judey Kalchik

It's my time to find and use my voice.

Poetry, short stories, memories, and a lot of things I think and wish I'd known a long time ago.

You can also find me on Medium

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Comments (8)

  • Cathy holmes23 days ago

    Wonderful article on the power of words. As for the commandments, I agree that those are the two most important, and wish more people adhered to the second one. I will admit though, I'm no saint.

  • Andy Potts2 months ago

    Lots of things I agree with in there, particularly the reminder that words have weight, and negative words can be disproportionately hurtful. But a couple of grey areas, too. "No criticizing" is a tough one: sometimes, surely, unwise or unacceptable behaviour needs to be called out. Not always easy to do, and often very hard to get the right tone, but I'm not sure it's sensible to shy away from constructive criticism in an effort to 'be kind'. Which moves us to Rumi's "third gate". Is it kinder to allow someone to follow a damaging course of action, so as not to hurt feelings, or kinder to speak up and risk harming (sometimes irrevocably) your relationship with that person? On the bright side, considering these will always help us to be more thoughtful in our speech, which can only be a good thing.

  • Shirley Belk2 months ago

    Judey, this is wonderful!

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Excellent review of the first agreement!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Denise E Lindquist2 months ago

    Looking forward to your comments on the book! I read it years ago. I see it popup every now and then! Thankyou!😊💕❤️

  • JBaz2 months ago

    1 )Think before speaking. One of the best advices to observe. There is a lot of thought in here whether people choose it or not, at least they still have that choice.

  • Mariann Carroll2 months ago

    I read that book , It is good advice. I try to be compassionate with my words .

  • Sonia Heidi Unruh2 months ago

    Thoughtful and well explained. This will be a good series.

Judey Kalchik Written by Judey Kalchik

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