Be Impeccable with Your Word


Last year I was introduced to this very fabulous little book called The Four Agreements. It was written by a man named don Miguel Ruiz, who came by his expertise in ancient Toltec wisdom honestly — it’s basically the family business. He trained as surgeon but eventually went back to study with his parents. The Toltecs were known throughout Mexico thousands of years ago as “women and men of knowledge.” They had a city called Teotihuacan, near modern-day Mexico City, where masters (known as naguals) and students came together to study, explore and conserve spiritual knowledge. This knowledge was passed down through generations, through Ruiz’s family, for one, and he has distilled it into a wonderful list of four amazingly simple life concepts.

The book, which is readable in one or two sittings, has religious overtones that you can take or leave, or interpret in whatever way works for you, and it’s a little new-agey. But these “agreements” — which you are to make with yourself — are easy to grasp make an incredible amount of sense. They’ve been quite useful to me.

Agreement number one is: Be Impeccable with Your Word.

From the book jacket:

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Instead of just reporting on what Don Ruiz says (you can read his book yourself, of course, and you should) — apart from the fact that “it sounds very simple, but it is very, very powerful” — I’m going to write about what I think it means.

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. I like to think of this as choosing your words carefully. To do that, you need to actually think and consider before you speak. It’s so easy not to do this — to just start spouting off, or to have what you say come from a place of strong, raw emotion or insecurity. That’s what often gets us into trouble. It’s easy for the other person to misinterpret or misunderstand you. If you say only what you mean, to impart information and feelings without cloaking them in innuendo or other passive-aggressive stuff, it makes the interaction a lot simpler and more pleasant and useful.

Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. So seemingly easy, but so actually hard. How much time do we spend listing our flaws to ourselves, telling ourselves we’re not good enough? Not accepting compliments and credit we deserve? Why not resolve to be kind when you speak about yourself, or even think about yourself? Yes, it’s a practice, but it’s a fulfilling one.

The gossip thing is interesting. You don’t need to be a mean-spirited shrew to indulge in gossip. We all do it. Sometimes it’s fun. But often — at least I find this for myself — it’s grounded in jealousy, insecurity, or other negative feelings toward the person or people you’re talking about behind their back. It doesn’t actually make you feel good, right? It usually makes me feel kind of uneasy, and downright yucky.

Not to gossip, but — I’m going somewhere with this. I used to have a friend who constantly talked badly about everyone we knew. I remember often smiling to myself and thinking, “I wonder what she says about me when I’m not around?” I mean, I couldn’t have been the only one about whom she had nothing negative to say. For her own reasons, which I don’t profess to know, this was her M.O. That friendship has ended, and in retrospect, that aspect of it was really quite exhausting to be around. Who needs any more negative energy than we already must confront and handle every day?

I like the word “impeccable.” It means “without sin.” If you try to speak impeccably, in the direction of truth and love, you’ll bypass those places where words lead you into the muck, where they make you feel bad, angry, jealous, uncomfortable, guilty. You’ll say only what you mean, only what needs to be said. It doesn’t mean you’ll go around talking about peaches and cotton candy all day (an editor once inserted those words into a piece I wrote, ruining any chance of my ever using it as a clip — oy!). Difficult and, yes, negative things sometimes need to be said. But you can choose to do it impeccably. I kind of love that.

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4 Comments on “Be Impeccable with Your Word”

  1. Rita says:

    Nice. Don Miguel is a great teacher. Speaking impeccably is simple and yet can be challenging at times. Thanks for the reminder.

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  2. Leslie says:

    I think about this a lot. When I was fortunate to be in the presence of one of my favorite teachers, Sarah Powers, it was notable the quality and the thoughtfulness with which she chose her words. You couldn’t help but feel that everything she did say really mattered. Speaking thoughtfully is a practice, no doubt. A practice I want to be mindful of during this week away. Thanks, Trace!

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  3. […] is the second — and my favorite — of Don Ruiz’s four agreements. (Click here to read about the first one, Be Impeccable with Your […]

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  4. […] the book The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. Last year I wrote about the first agreement, Be impeccable with your word, and the second, Don’t take anything […]

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