Be impeccable with your word.

Don Miguel Ruiz

In his seminal book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz maintains that to offset the toxic programming of our society, we must make four agreements with ourselves. According to Ruiz, the agreements we must make with ourselves to free ourselves from societal programming are as follows: 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don’t take anything personally; 3) Don’t make assumptions; and 4) Always do your best.  

Ruiz maintains that we are taught to accept things dictated to us by our parents, society and the culture we are raised in as a child. He states that everything we accept as “the way it is” is an agreement. These unexamined agreements are sometimes helpful — but often they are harmful and stunt our emotional and psychological growth. 

The concept of race and racial superiority is an example of a harmful agreement that has been foisted upon us. We are taught and unconsciously agree to the idea that the color of one’s skin genetically determines intelligence and ability. In other words, their state of poverty and lack of mobility is just “the way it is.” 

Of the Four Agreements we must make with ourselves, being impeccable with our word is needed today more than ever.

The words we use can liberate, motivate, demean or demonize a person or a group of people. Words today have been weaponized. Name calling, trolling on social media and cursing are accepted as par for the course. I see young women and men using the F-word like a semicolon to break up a series of sentences. Similarly, both the N-word (applied to African Americans) and the B-word (applied to women) have gained renewed currency, both within the affected groups and by those outside of these groups. I have heard and reject the lame argument that, when used by the in-groups, these are “terms of endearment.” Poppycock. Regardless of the tonality and inflection used, these words carry with them a certain disdain. 

It appears that the one word that rankles most whites is being called a “racist.” Why?

Have most white Americans avoided being infected by a culture that teaches them subtly and often overtly that “those people” are not their equal? Did most so-called white people somehow escape the programming around racial stereotypes and hierarchies? Is the bigot spewing hateful words the real racist or is racism so deeply embedded in our culture that no one can escape — including the targets? 

I have maintained that reverse racism is the process of teaching the targets of racial animus to hate themselves, to hate their hair, their lips, their nose and their dark complexion, etc. To be an anti-racist (regardless of ethnicity) one would have to reject the programming, be programmed differently, or make an agreement with oneself to reject labeling themselves or an entire group of people as inferior. 

While being impeccable with our word is necessary, it is not enough. Most importantly, we must examine our thoughts. As a popular poster states: “Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. …” And, as we have witnessed lately, these actions can be deadly in a literal sense. 

Words as weapons cannot be legislated away — they must be consistently monitored and eliminated from our thought processes. 

Kwame Salter is an Oak Park resident and a regular contributor to Viewpoints.

Join the discussion on social media!