“Don’t take it personally,” said my ol’ buddy Lamar. We were on my front porch speculating on the unseasonably warm weather. A recent slight had come to mind and I was in the middle of my second recitation of the insult.
“I beg your pardon?” I said. I had been feeding my righteous indignation like the birds at my feeder.
Lamar said, “I said, ‘Don’t take it personally.’”
As we’d been talking, we were watching birds gathered at the feeders hanging in the tree in my front yard. The usual finches and juncos and white-crested nuthatches were jostling at the feeder. A common grosbeak had joined the minor melee.
“Haven’t you been listening to what I said?” I squirmed in my chair. “I can’t let that so-and-so get away with it.”
Lamar said. “Why not?”
“He referred to me as the south end of a horse looking north. What’s her name told me!”
Lamar smiled. “Colorful, if indirect. I get it. I understand while you’re riled up, but I’ve been reading this book.”
Uh-oh, I thought. No good can come from this. People don’t know this about Lamar, but he’s a reader. Compared to him, my reading list looks like a stack discarded magazines in a bus station. The guy is always reading something.
“Yeah, so?” I said.
The grosbeak assumed temporary dominion over the cache of black-oil sunflower seeds. The nuthatches were pecking at the nyjer seeds. The finches and juncos settled on branches nearby to wait for their shot at brunch.
“Hear me out,” Lamar said. “The book is titled The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s an interesting book, but there’s this one chapter that has really been on my mind lately. It’s the second agreement in his thesis. ‘Don’t take anything personally.’”
“How is that even possible?” I asked.
In one way or another, my entire life I have taken everything personally, in one way or another. Like the cels of sequential cartoon drawings fluttering into animation, all that I have taken personally flickered at increasing speed.
Lamar didn’t miss a beat. “Don Miguel says, ‘You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the comments and actions of others.’”
I felt a frown settling on my brow like a WWII helmet. “I don’t know, Lamar,” I said. “That’s a grandiose idea, I think, but it sounds a little Carlos Castenada to me.”
Lamar said. “I get it. I understand your skepticism. I’ve been struggling with it, too. But I’ve been looking for a new year’s resolution and—“
In a startling burst, all the birds fled the feeders. A sharp-shinned hawk swept in and landed at the base of the tree, looked around briefly then flew away.
“I think I’ve found one,” Lamar said, “I’m not going to take anything personally.”