Don't Take Anything Personally: Commenting on Commenting


I recite Don Miguel Ruiz' Four Agreements as part of my daily mantra practice (mantras are positive affirmations reflecting qualities I want to cultivate in my self). I have already blogged about the ambivalence with which I sometimes view his Fourth Agreement, Always Do Your Best. I recently ruminated about my ambivalence regarding his Third Agreement, Don't Make Assumptions, in a comment on my friend Dan's Unfolding Leadership blog. I now want to turn to his Second Agreement, Don't Take Anything Personally, in general, as well as its application to the blogosphere ... renewing a practice I followed for a week, almost exactly one year ago, relating blogging to other inspiring books, e.g., Love is the Killer App, Blogs are the Killer Platform (riffing on Tim Sanders' book), The 8 Blogging Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), Your Heart's Blog: The Practice of Unfolding (Oriah Mountain Dreamer).

[BTW, just for completeness, the First Agreement is Be Impeccable With Your Word.]

On the book jacket of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel defines his Second Agreement as follows:

Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

This agreement is very much in alignment with a concept we embrace in The Mankind Project: recognizing that "each man is my mirror" [MKP is a men's organization, hence the gender bias; although much of our work is confronting and resolving issues with other men, many of the concepts and practices apply equally well to all people].

Much of the work I've done around this concept has been on not taking any negative projections of others personally. If someone expresses anger at something I do or say - or something I don't do or don't say, as is often the case - it is usually because I have touched some wound they have suffered in the past. While I find it easier to see projections by others, I am increasingly able (or willing) to see projections in my own behavior, when I'm willing to reflect on why it is I really feel anger, sad or fear about something.

One of the ways I try to practice greater awareness of the real causes of my anger and to take greater responsibility for my feelings is to stop using language that suggests that someone else has made me angry. No one makes me angry (or sad or fearful). I often feel angry /sad / fearful, but projecting this onto others diminishes my power and accountability. Instead of saying (or thinking) "he made me angry...", I substitute "I feel angry that he...". This, then, opens up a space in which I can reflect - usually at some future time - about what it is about me that was triggered by words or actions (or inactions) of others.

While I've been practicing this agreement when it comes to emotions I typically label as negative, I find it far more challenging to apply this to emotions I typically label as positive, e.g., happiness. For example, when someone says or does something that makes me about which I feel happy, I really want to take that personally. If someone compliments me on something I've done, said or written, I want to own that, just like I have often taken ownership of criticisms others have directed at me. And yet, if I apply the Second Agreement consistently, even these positive projections are still, well, projections, and I'm no more justified in accepting responsibility for anything positive anyone says or does than I am in accepting responsibility for anything negative anyone says or does.

Applying this to my own projections - when I say something positive about someone else - I can gain somewhat greater insight into the process. I recognize that the nice things I say about others typically revolve around actions that either reflect qualities I perceive in my self (so they are, at some level, saying "way to be like me!") or qualities I want to cultivate in my self (saying "I want to be more like you!").

One of the dimensions in which I see these projections play out most clearly is in my experience of the blogosphere. The comments I post on others' blog entries are usually triggered in some way by the blog posts on which I'm commenting, but my comments themselves are always about me. I truly intend to express something that may be of value to the author of the post and/or his/her readers, but the only thing I can be sure of is that posting the comment is somehow of value to me (though it may not always be of positive value).

The example I mentioned at the beginning of this post is a good case in point. Dan Oestreich wrote a characteristically introspective and inspiring post, Just Keep Me In The Light, sharing his experience at a workshop, in which he noted (among other things):

Anyone who leads — anyone — cannot afford projection, cannot afford to assume.

This triggered one of my many internal struggles: can we not afford to assume, or can we not afford not to assume? So I posted a comment, in which I wrote about this struggle:

I think it’s impossible to drive a car without making assumptions about the other drivers on the road. Sure, one wants to be prepared for unexpected actions and reactions on the part of other drivers, but if one doesn’t assume that most people will abide by most traffic laws most of the time, one wouldn’t be able to drive.

Tying this back to leadership, how can one lead if one isn’t willing to make certain assumptions - about the competency, integrity and dedication of those whom one is leading? Of course one wants to “trust but verify” but isn’t alot of that trust based on assumptions? I think we cannot but help make assumptions … perhaps the key is to be more conscious about when we are making assumptions.

On a related note, I also don’t think we can help but make projections. All I really know is my own experience (and I don’t even know that very well). As much as I may try to understand you for who you are, I’m not sure I can ever honestly say that any perceptions I have about you are not some kind of projection. Perhaps, again, the key is simply to be conscious of the projected nature of these “perceptions”.

Obviously, I don’t have any of this worked out - thanks for helping me to be more consciously in the question(s)!

Fortunately (in many ways), Dan is a good friend, and a fellow subscriber to the Four Agreements, and thus I know that he knows not to take anything I write [in comments on his blog] personally. I wasn't so much challenging him about his assertion as I was simply opening up my own conflict about projections and assumptions - which I hope to open up further in some future blog post (on the Third Agreement).

The tipping point for me to blog about taking things personally in the blogosophere is due, as usual, to a confluence of multiple events. Commenting on Dan's post set the stage, but it was subsequent comments on my own blog posts that helped motivate me to write [er, at some length] about this.

My wine blog receives a higher comment-to-post ratio than this blog [part of this is no doubt due to the fact that my wine blog posts are typically far shorter than posts on this blog]. Lately, I've been noticing an increasing number of increasingly deceptively complimentary spam comments (spampliments?).

Some, of course, are not so deceptive, e.g.,

I am Very thank full the owner of this blog. Becouse of this blog is very imformative for me.. And I ask u some thiing You make more this type blog where we can get more knowledge. http://www_penisenlargementz_com [substituting underscores for periods to avoid giving the spam commenter's sponsor any extra links]

Others, however, are a bit harder to decipher, e.g.,

Very nice post. I liked your writing style and the way you covered the topic.

One comment even included a reference to the wine shop (Garagiste) I'd referenced in the post on which it was commenting:

i want visit Garagiste and taste their finest wines. i always searching of good type of wines.

In fact, I left this last one up for a while, until the following comment came in, which also had the same source URL (http://www_drinksos_com, which advertises a hangover cure which I imagine is every bit as effective as the, er, enhancement advertised in the abovementioned comment source URL):

Thanks for your information. i have also had some great experince for wine tasting. there is one restaurant in my town and they have many good brands of wine.

So now I've gone and deleted all the comments listing that URL as a web page (and if jakee and tony, the names provided by the people who posted the comments listed above, from an IP address in Karachi, Pakistan - a long way from the Garagiste wine shop in Seattle - are truly trying to add value, and not simply increasing the Google juice of their sponsor through promiscuous comments, I apologize).

The point I want to make, however, is not about the complimentary spam comments, per se, but that I was so easily duped into believing them to be sincere ... which I believe is because I was actually taking them personally ... and because I was taking them personally - and positively - I didn't examine them as closely ... just as I often take personally (and don't examine closely) the positive things family, friends and colleagues say to or about me in face-to-face or other types of mediated exchanges.

Speaking of which, another good friend and inspiring blogger, Matthew Cornell, recently posted a short comment on my recent post on A New Generation of Proactive Displays which has a very similar phraseology:

Neat! Tons of potential here ... and many ideas spring forth.

Now, I know Matt well enough to believe that he is sincere about this (and that he won't take personally my choice to single out his comment here). And I sincerely felt good receiving his comment, as I do in receiving all comments that are complimentary (as another blogging friend, Noah Kagan, so pithily put it: "comments make me orgasm" (a blog entry on which, of course, I posted a rather long comment)).

However, if I abide by the agreement of not taking things personally, I would have to say that this comment is really about Matt (just like my comments on Dan's and Noah's posts are really about me). Of course, Matt is an "ideas" guy (hence his aptly named blog,, and he often sees great potential in ideas and people (which is why he has changed career trajectories in order to help people become more effective in getting things done to realize their ideas). I think I can still feel good about the comment under this agreement, since even though comment may really be about Matt, something I wrote may have helped trigger him to perceive and/or project something interesting and useful ... but in writing this, I have to admit I'm not entirely clear about this (isn't the projection of triggering something in another person taking that personally, somehow?).

Anyhow, I'm going to stop here, and invite anyone who has insights to share on not taking things (e.g., comments) personally to post a comment ... though, of course, you know how I'll probably be interpreting (projecting onto?) any comments that are posted now ...

[Update, 2007-09-11: My friend, Taneli, told me that the intention(s) behind comments can sometimes be challenging to decipher on Flickr, and sent me an example of some commenting on commenting on a Flickr photo.]

Data, Judgments, Feelings and Wants: A Path toward Clarity

I was talking with some colleagues this morning about recognizing and resolving misunderstandings and [other] conflicts. I mentioned a few different perspectives and processes that I've used, and sent along some references. I've blogged about two of them before: the four agreements and love and logic. I was surprised to discover I'd never blogged about a third process, nor could I discover any other references for it on the web. It is the clearing process I learned as part of the Mankind Project.

The core of the process is distinguishing between data, judgments, feelings and wants, and recognizing that each person is simply a mirror for me (and I am simply a mirror for others). When I feel a "charge" about something that someone has said (or not said) or done (or not done), I can clear that charge by recognizing, articulating and processing four dimensions of the energy I'm feeling about the [in]action:

  • Data: what are the observable facts involved in the situation: things that have been said or done (or not said or not done), by me or the other person(s)?
  • Judgments: what inferences do I draw from those data, e.g., how do I judge the other(s), and/or how do I judge that he/she/they judge me?
  • Feelings: how do I feel about those judgments and data, i.e., glad, sad, mad or afraid?
  • Wants: given these feelings, judgments and data, what is it I really want (for myself)?

Learning how to distinguish effectively between data and judgments is a challenging (and ongoing) process. I often think of negative judgments such as "you don't respect me" or "you don't take me seriously" as data, but increasingly recognize them as judgments. Getting clear about the actual feelings is also challenging, as the surface level anger I sometimes feel is often a mask for fear. Early on, my wants often revolved around what I wanted from another person (e.g., "I want you to love me") and it is only with persistent practice that I can better realize the value of focusing on wants for myself ("I want to love myself ... regardless of whether I judge that anyone else loves me").

I've omitted a step from the list above, in which I may reflect on how the charge I feel is really about me (radical personal responsibility), and [when appropriate] to go back to the first time I felt the feelings and judgments that are creating the charge. This often occurs between the feelings and wants steps, but I can't think of a good one-word description for this step. It typically results in yet another example of "lessons are repeated as often as necessary".

The framework is powerful, and I've often applied it outside of MKP contexts. I was surprised that googling for "data judgments feelings wants" did not turn up anything I recognized as relevant to MKP (and hope that I'm not violating some principle in revealing the process here). However, the search turned up some interesting items, e.g.,

The Four Preferences: Do we rely on our five senses and want concrete, practical data to work with? ... Most decisions involve some Thinking and some Feeling. ...

ISTJ Personal Growth: An ISTJ's feeling of success depends upon being able to use their ... Their hyper-vigilant judgments about the rationality and competence of others may be a ...

As I've noted before, I'm an ENFP ... and although I haven't noted it before, my wife, Amy, is an ISTJ, and so this google-based serendipitous discovery of potential differences in perspectives regarding judgments, feelings and wants is rather illuminating (in my judgment).

An Unfolding Series of Pit and Peak Experiences

Theoryu Labyrinth Dan Oestreich's invocation of labyrinths and U's in a recent post on his Unfolding Leadership blog really got my juices flowing.  I started posting a comment, but it got so long I decided to take it back here, include some of the most inspiring pieces (er, which is most of his post, actually), and riff on them a bit.

Dan says

We all want to know where the point of transformation lies. I would say it is in “no space,” the place we come to after exhausting everything we know…and everything we are, a point of pure meditation. The current theory base, exemplified by Oscar Scharmer’s “Theory U”, suggests exactly this process of emptying ourselves of everything known so that we can listen to a best future Self, a source of deep intuitive wisdom... Scharmer describes the bottom of the U as where we touch a larger field that goes beyond our present awareness, a place of new insight and new consciousness that enables us to solve the problems we have been stuck by using our current, more limited awareness.

What he presents is both a beautiful new model and an exquisitely old one. Those of you familiar with labyrinths know them as a profound spiritual tool of unknown antiquity, a tool that is still eminently vital and provocative as a way to access inner wisdom. It is at the center of the labyrinth, metaphorically the bottom of the U, where awareness is born, the seed of a new way of being. Once the seed is grasped, doors unlock, and a transformed way of living may arrive, gradually over time, or in an instant. The “process” of walking a forty foot wide labyrinth is deceptively simple: 1) Wait for the readiness to enter; 2) walk forward, just following the path — this is not a maze — sequentially letting go of the past and surrendering to new knowledge; 3) humbly welcome insight at the center; and 4) return to the world, reflecting on the how your world is changing. Near where I live is a labyrinth that I walk sometimes. In the center is a mound of shells and a simple stone bench. Like past lives that have served well and are now gone, the shells at the center remind me how I am often faced with grief, and in turn, in touch with these feelings, I am also able to recognize my splintered but real wholeness. If I cannot experience the grief, I cannot remember the richness of my life and its fundamental wholeness. But when that sense does come, the answers often come with it.





I, too, have walked the labyrinth at Unity of Bellevue that Dan mentions (shown above), and found it to be a profoundly serenity-inducing experience.

Dan's juxtaposition of Theory U with labyrinths evoked a vision of a three dimensional labyrinth, where the center is at the bottom of the "U" (which, in three dimensions, would be more of a bowl or cup), and the gradual slope of the switchbacks along the edges helps facilitate navigation into the valley (or pit) and back up to the top of the hill (or peak).

Archetype_of_initiation_1 During a recent workshop through which I learned about the dance of leadership, the leaders invoked a number of concepts from The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Personal Transformation, by Robert Moore. They used the image of a "U" in visualizing the stages of descent, transformation and subsequent ascent, which seems closely aligned with the notion of presencing that Otto Scharmer speaks of (he uses the terms co-sensing, co-presencing and co-creating for these three stages). The leaders of this and other Mankind Project workshops always emphasize the critical importance of building a safe container within which those who are willing to be led can open up to their shadows and gold, and use these to express more fully who they really are. Thus, the 3D "U" also can be seen as a sacred container.

Darksideofthemoon At a very high level, all of life can be seen as one large transformation.  As I peer more closely, though, I see life as a series of hills and valleys, or, perhaps, pit experiences and peak experiences.  Once I work through one challenge, and attain the peak on the other side, I become more aware of the surrounding pits and peaks ... reminding me (yet again) of lyrics from Pink Floyd's song, Breathe (from Dark Side of the Moon)

When at last your work is done,
Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one.

I envision a landscape of valleys and mountains (pits and peaks), where the surface resembles an irregular eggshell foam mattress laid out over an uneven surface.  I'd love to find a graphical tool that would enable me to realize and share this visualization.  I searched around for images to express this, but couldn't find anything.  In a moment of synchronicity, a recent photo of the Artist's Palette taken by my friend Elizabeth during her recent trip to Death Valley National Park appeared in my Google Desktop Sidebar Photos frame as I was reading Dan's post.  The photo represents a close approximation of this vision of life as a series of [colorful] pits and peaks:


Looping back to the leadership theme, this landscape represents the ongoing challenges of leadership: leaders are those who have been willing to descend into their pits, transform themselves and ascend to new peaks ... and thereby become better able to guide others through similar terrain.

In my own experience, the further I descend into a pit, the harder it is to see the peak, and so it requires faith and will to continue descending rather than stopping or climbing back to what earlier seemed like "high ground".  And, when I am willing to persevere through the ascent to the next peak, I gain a new perspective on the surrounding peaks and pits, and see that the journey can continue, if I'm up -- and down -- for it.

Way_of_the_peaceful_warrior The descent also reminds me of the dis-illusionment that Dan Millman talks about in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which I started re-reading recently (I haven't seen the movie, though) . Although the term is often interpreted as having a negative connotation, Millman's mentor, Socrates, suggests that disillusionment is actually a positive development, as it is only through releasing our illusions that we can gain a clearer perspective on reality.

And, speaking of release, I want to indulge in one final riff on Dan[ Oestreich]'s post.  At the end, he notes:

Perhaps we can never know exactly what the place of true transformation is, a space as close to us as our own breath and yet, depending on our circumstances and suffering, one that may seem hundreds of miles away. LivingSource may be one of its names. Well, whatever you want to call it, I would say it is what holds us in the depth of this remarkable Universe. It is that depth, no less. A pattern of some kind? Or the end of patterns? An open palm? A river in which to wash my Face.

This image of an open palm evokes the notion of "let go in order to receive". As long as I am tight-fistedly clinging to the old -- or perhaps, resting on my laurels at the top of the last peak I ascended -- I cannot fully open up to the new ... and I certainly can't wash my face very effectively with clenched fists :-).

The Dance of Leadership

A healthy community is like a dance, with different dancers stepping forward to take the lead at different times, and others following those leads.  Even followers are leaders, as we lead ourselves along paths or sequences illuminated by those who we consciously or unconsciously agree to allow lead us.  A leader creates a safe space within which others can more effectively recognize and express their magnificence.

These are some of the insights that emerged for me over the weekend, as I participated in a leadership training course (LT1) offered by the Mankind Project.  As with other MKP trainings in which I've participated, I don't want to reveal the specifics of any of the exercises -- as that may diminish the impact for any future trainees -- but will elaborate further on some of the results (for me).

The notion of leadership as a dance arose as I noticed that all of the participants are leaders[-in-training], and recognized that if none of us was willing to step back at times -- and allow others to step forward -- little would be accomplished.  As I became more conscious of this dance, and who was stepping forward in different contexts, I ruminated on what distinguishes a leader, and wanted to be able to encompass a range of leaders from Ghandi to Hitler. I arrived at the following definition of leadership:

Leadership is the modeling and communication of passionate commitment to an inspiring goal, principle or path.

Throughout the weekend, I was reminded of related wisdom shared by others, including Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Dee Hock and Dan Oestreich

In the Prelude to Oriah's book, The Dance, she asks some provocative and insightful questions, including:

What if it truly doesn't matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?

What if you knew that the impulse to move in a way that creates beauty in
the world will arise from deep within and guide you every time you simply
pay attention and wait?

These help me remember that it doesn't necessarily matter whether I am leading others, but that in leading my self, I stay fully conscious and true to my self, and that it is in trusting my own instincts that I can lead my self -- and others -- most authentically.

I've written about Dee Hock's inspiring principles on Chaordic Leadership before.  His insights into power, listening and judgment repeatedly came to mind over the weekend, and his prescription for leadership was resonating deeply for me:

Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

I also had occasion to practice his advice for recognizing, admitting, correcting, learning from and rising above mistakes over the weekend, as I became painfully aware of how much of my father's patterns of leadership in marriage and parenthood I have adopted.  Although my father had many wonderful and admirable qualities -- many of which I hope I am perpetuating -- there are other characteristic that I have unconsciously adopted.  I renewed my commitment to making mistakes wakefully.

Dan Oestreich, an inspiring leadership coach (and friend), has shared many insights into the gold and shadows of leadership in his Unfolding Leadership blog.  Many of them were reverberating through me during the weekend.  Perhaps most poignantly, I was ever more aware of the path on which he has helped me embark toward my unfolding radiance.  I will invoke yet another element of Oestreichian inspiration, and apply the representation of a möbius strip, which I first used in ruminating on preaching what I want to practice, to the paradox of leadership (and followership):


There were other sources of wisdom invoked by the leaders of the leadership training, including

A quick search of Amazon reveals that there are other books related to the dance of leadership, including

For the moment, however, I am content to follow the beat of my own, inner drummer, dancing with the shadows and gold that were illuminated for me over the course of the weekend.

New Warrior Training Adventure: A Powerful Multi-cultural and Multi-dimensional Experience

I've just returned from my "rookie" staffing at a New Warrior Training Adventure weekend near Albany, NY: a multi-cultural NWTA co-sponsored by the Upstate NY, New England, and Montreal communities within the Mankind Project (MKP).  It was a powerful experience on multiple levels for me, made all the moreso by the opportunity to participate in the initiation of a good friend.  It has been nearly three years since my own initiation, with the Chicago MKP community, and while my weekly post-training "integration group" in the local Northwest MKP community provides a safe container within which I continue to grow, the weekend represented a long overdue, deeper reconnection with -- and renewal of -- my sacred masculine energy, an aspect of my self that I need to increasingly draw upon as I continue to stretch beyond my comfort zone in my personal and professional activities.  It was also a great opportunity to meet, work with and develop new relationships with some amazing men who are committed to making the world a better place.  I feel great joy and gratitude for this opportunity.  Aho!

Warrior Monk: A Spiritual and Soulful Retreat

I attended a four-day retreat, Warrior Monk, before the holidays, with the goal of achieving greater clarity, courage and commitment in following my heart. The workshop "welcomes those in transition and those seeking their next level of authentic growth, healing and spiritual connection," and includes a combination of meditation, poetry reading and writing, chanting, singing and dancing, all designed to encourage mindfulness and intentionality.  There were daily opportunities for stretching: physically (a 5-step Tibetan rite sequence), mentally (paradox-embracing and reality-creation exercises, reminding me of the movie What the Bleep), emotionally (consistent focus on identifying, feeling and working with the four basic emotions: joy, anger, fear, sadness) and spiritually (incorporating elements of a variety of spiritual traditions).  As with the New Warrior Training Adventure, it was a wonderful opportunity to form strong bonds with great men, and I benefited as much (if not more) from the work other men did as from the work I did ... though as I write this, I realize I'm not as willing to make as much of a distinction between my work and their work -- or indeed, between me and them -- as I was before the retreat.

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