Self-help vs. Ways of Being

In a recent conversation about don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, a friend described the book as being in the “self-help” category and claimed that if self-help books worked, we would need only one. This person’s argument was that because there are endless self-help books being written and published, that is evidence that they don’t work and never will.

I never thought of The Four Agreements as a self-help book. I think of the book Heal Your Headache as a self-help book. (If you suffer from migraines, fibromyalgia, constant headaches, neuralgia, or any other chronic illness that is ill-defined and for which you cannot find relief, read that book. It will save your sanity.)

But I digress.

I view The Four Agreements more as a ways of being in the world than self-help. Similar to Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, Ruiz writes with a stream of consciousness style that sounds as if it comes directly from his experience. The four agreements are: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. On the surface, they sound like advice your parents would give you. To live them honestly, though, one must translate that advice to a way of personal being in the world.

That’s the tricky part.

Exactly how can I be impeccable with my word? What does that mean? Does that mean I have to tell the truth ALL the time? How can I not take what happens to me personally? Don’t make assumptions about anything? Really? Anything? And that part about doing my best, well, at least Ruiz makes some allowance for the fact that there are different levels of “best” depending on how my life is going at the moment.

Even if it were a “self-help” book, the application would be the same which is why I think the more books that are written, the more information that is shared, the more we know of the experience of others, the more common ground we can find and the less alone we are. Everyone writes their book from their own personal experience and way of being in the world. They are telling us “this worked for me; it might work for you, but you have to make it yours.”

And that is about as impeccable as I can be in this moment.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass


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7 Responses to “Self-help vs. Ways of Being”

  1. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I appreciate you take on this book. I really enjoyed it, so much that when I wa at Holessence – spote a deck of cards about the four agreements. I start every day with a new thing to learn. They are really thought provoking.

    Thanks also for helping quell that alone feeling tis evening….Amanda is at a picnic with softball friends and Mike/Joe are going to a meeting at church. Me? Just sitting enjoying a quiet evening with oreoz.


    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim – I will have to get a deck of those cards. I like having daily reminders to help me get out of the habits I am trying to unload. Enjoy your quiet evening at home. Thinking of you!

  2. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    Yes those habits are challenging…

    I am presently off Soda,coffee,and chocolate…The first time I think in over 40 years….and longest stretch…only 12 days…and more to come.

    I definitely needed my comfort food-tuna salad—twice!

    Thanks for thinking of me, as I wiLl of you namaste!…


  3. holessence Says:

    “… the more books that are written, the more information that is shared, the more we know of the experience of others, the more common ground we can find and the less alone we are.”

    Amen! I agree with you wholeheartedly, Barbara.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — I think that books, the Internet, and the other devices that connect us all are a phenomenon of our need to be connected. The great thing about books, though, is that they can reach across the centuries and we still can hear the voice of the author.

  4. sandiwhite Says:

    Barbara, that was impeccably written. Frankly I try not to give my word if the situation looks iffy. Better to “see what I can do”. All the advice sounds very solid, as you say it is what someone who truly cared for you would pass on. Of course I always take everything personally and make assumptions left, right and center. I do try to do my personal best with about any thing I undertake, either from sheer vanity or the fact that I have made a commitment to live as the M. of U. were judging my style. Being a perfectionist is a terrible trial, so I do slack off quite a bit more than I should, but I think I’m getting over that. Now Kim’s got me thinking about Tuna Salad, I’ll have to rummage in the cupboards.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Sandi — you can’t take everything personally because that’s my job 😀

      These are strong character traits, you know. We care immensely, which makes us sensitive creatures.

      Now, go eat your tuna salad.

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