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Be impeccable with your word

I'm reading a great book right now called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a little book with a simple message: namely, that there are four things you should focus on if you want to change your life in a powerful way.

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don't take anything personally  
  3. Don't make assumptions
  4. Always do your best  

The first Agreement is the hardest. To "be impeccable with your word" means, obviously, you should be honest and straightforward. But it's actually more than that. You should also avoid engaging in pettiness, especially gossip. The author points out that gossiping has become the main form of communication in our society. Speaking ill of people in a casual way is a form of gossip.

I mention this because today I read this blurb about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's comment about Bush as he departed the inauguration. This kind of statement is completely unnecessary, unless your point is to perpetuate pettiness.  But that seems to be a staple of most of our politicians.

Yesterday I saw a news clip of Joe Biden joking about needing notes when he was swearing and some administration officials, the point of which was to subtly criticize Chief Justice John Roberts' mishap in delivering the presidential oath. Next to Biden was President Obama, who was stone-faced—clearly not interested in joining in Biden's off-the-cuff pettiness.

I don't know if Obama has read The Four Agreements, but he seems to understand very well the principle of 'being impeccable with one's word.'  Unfortunately, many others do not understand this. Those who do, however, have a powerful edge.  One that, in Obama's case, will be very useful in meeting some major political challenges.

P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

5 Comments

  • Marjory says:

    I read The Four Agreements several years ago and am reminded of them frequently. I believe they are very good “rules for life” and if followed would reduce conflict and stress for everyone. I’m reminded of how many relationship problems all go back to not being true to your word, making assumptions, taking it personally or not doing your best. I hope that I can teach the value of these agreements to my kids one day.

  • Thanks for the comment Jay. First of all, let me make clear that I am “not on the side” of either Democrats or Republicans. For the record, I voted for Obama and I like Biden. My point was that flippant comments, whether serious or in jest, are sometimes more harmful than the politicians who make them realize. To “be impeccable with your word” means to not make flippant comments that might be harmful.

    It means to think carefully about everything you say, especially comments that you tend to make in a casual way. In other words, think carefully about what you say before you say it and consider how it might be deemed a slight. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chief Justice John Roberts (who probably feels very bad about his mistake) would feel slighted by Mr. Biden’s remarks. If Mr. Biden knew that the Chief Justice would feel slighted I doubt he would make those remarks. That’s my point.

  • Jay Rigdon says:

    I agree that Pelosi’s comments were out of bounds, and she seems to be in the trap of “fighting, us again them” routine that is so prevalent in DC.

    Biden’s were different,though. He was just attempting to be funny, and he has made the same self deprecating jokes about himself and his verbosity, as well as the plagarism scandal that sent him packing in 1988. Don’t make the mistake of taking everything that politicians say as offensive if they’re not on your side.

    Thanks for your efforts on this blog.

  • Kyle says:

    Great post, Ernie. But these promises, especially No. 1, are hard, even more especially in a profession like law that is built upon the adversarial system. We all get frustrated with our opponents and often, whether formally or informally, say petty things or act in what we perceive to be a justifiable response but what is really petty bickering. Politics is no different. This is not to excuse what you have identified as irresponsible remarks, but rather just to note that it’s even more of a challenge. (Perhaps it’s proof how remarkable a politician that President Obama truly is.)

    In Biden’s defense, I think his comment was just supposed to be a joke, and not intended to be demeaning to a jurist that certainly is intelligent, respected, and made an honest mistake due to nerves (although, as I have posted on my blog, he could have practiced Promise No. 4 better by bringing a cheat sheet instead of relying upon his memory when the world was watching). Biden just didn’t tell a good joke–maybe Promise No. 1 dictates that highlighting a foible of a serious person in a serious situation.

  • Steven V says:

    another book put on hold at my public library, thanks for pointing this out.

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