If there was a new TikTok challenge asking to name a book that tells about coaching without telling about coaching, my first answer would be “The four agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.
While reading the first part of this book, rich of metaphors about the human condition and existence, my mind immediately jumped to a theatre play I studied and co-directed almost 20 years ago. It was a mise-en-scène of “A porte chiuse“, Italian translation of “Huis clos” by Jean-Paul Sartre.
In this opera, translated in English as “No exit” (but also performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out, Vicious Circle, Behind Closed Doors, and Dead End) Jean-Paul Sartre summarises one of the most pessimistic thoughts of his existentialism idea when one of the protagonists, Garcin, says, “Hell is other people”. Everyone is at times judges and victims. Every human is someone else’s hell. To pursue their own goal, everyone takes a direction that sooner or later will conflict, intersect and collide with others. In addition to this, true communication between humans is impossible because every life is unique and everyone gives a different meaning to words that sound the same. Everyone has a view of the world, themselves, others and the reality they live, which is mostly a fantasy. A subjective dream, or nightmare or hell.
In “The Four Agreements“, Don Miguel Ruiz starts from the same premise. He explains that many times the hell is ourselves. In this hell, everyone’s subjective reality is a cumulative interpretation of false assumptions that create a wall of fog. Everyone lives without awareness, dreaming 24 hours a day. Everyone gives power to others to be a judge but we are all mainly the judges and victims of ourselves. “We are living in a dream of hell“.
In addition to this Ruiz mentions that true communication between humans is impossible because words can be used to cast spells, to influence and dominate others. Words are powerful and negative language is like black magic. Everyone speaks simultaneously and all voices overlap, becoming incomprensible like in a nightmare.
The hell for the whole humanity is the collective hell of billions of smaller personal dreams, misjudgments, assumptions and misunderstandings, which together create a dream of a family, which scales to a dream of communities, cities, countries and eventually the whole humanity. A global nightmare.
“No human can condemn another to hell because we are already there“. These planetary dream rules are passed generation after generation. When a new human is born we hook the child’s attention, we initiate and through repetition we domesticate them to participate in the dream. They learn to behave in society, they learn what is acceptable and what is not. They conform to the language and code of conduct.
The hell depicted in the French existentialist play by Nobel Prize Jean-Paul Sartre, where Joseph Garcin, Inèz Serrano, and Estelle Rigault are locked in, is the antecedent, intimate version of what in Ruiz’s book assume planetary dimensions. Like Garcin, Inez and Estelle, we are locked in our planet, in our dream of hell.
Can it be worse? Yes, others can put us into a deeper hell.
Is there any good news? Yes, others can put us into a deeper hell only if we allow this to happen.
We are responsible for breaking and rejecting -rather than accepting- the domestication and all the sedimented beliefs, social, cultural, linguistic, religious, family rooted or personal rules that shape our way of thinking and acting and overall limit our freedom.
Whilst Ruiz seems to start from very similar premises, his book offers a solution to the problems underlined by existentialism. The book, a practical guide to personal freedom, a liberating pathway to find balance, bravery, awareness, happiness, freedom. The powerful guide lets us look at the human condition -and our own life- with a positive outlook. It’s not a coincidence that the last chapter is titled “The new dream – Heaven on earth”.
With his thought-provoking writing, Ruiz offers 4 simple principles that, practiced together, may dissolve “the wall of fog”, break the spell, “kill the parasite”, limit the hell and wake us up to a better reality. Below are the four principles called by Ruiz “agreements”.
1. Be impeccable with your words
2. Don’t take anything personally
3. Don’t make assumptions
4. Always do your best
The agreements are easy to understand but probably not so easy to master. Yet, they are powerful, simple and inspiring.
The breaking change -the new agreement- is starting to practice them.
You may be willing to implement and honour the four agreements even knowing that sometimes you may fail and fall but you will take the lesson and raise with self-compassion, no judgement and stronger than before.
The four agreements are powerful tools to improve yourself, increase awareness, unlock your inner potential, stay focused and achieve your goals.
How many times do we need to apologize for not choosing our words wisely? How many hours do we spend in fighting for real or imagining a fight in our mind while ruminating on a situation? How many times making the wrong assumption cost us? I could go on, but this page is not meant to be a summary or a substitute of the book.
The point is that, these principles, empirically would save us time and energy that we can dedicate to self-fulfilment, to have a happier life, to exercise creativity, to co-create a better self or a better world around us starting from small steps.
Becoming a master of transformation and a master of awareness requires bravery, will, self-compassion.
We need to be wise and wild to be free. We need to be rebels and to be warriors.
Saying it with Sir John Whitmore words “to coach successfully, we need to adopt a far more optimistic view than usual of the dormant capability of all people” and “The Four Agreements” provide a practical guide (and four principles) that support gaining this optimistic view.
This view, this awakening and awareness are needed to embrace the coaching mindset, to transform ourselves and contribute to others’ transformation.
Under the lens of Ruiz’s book, coaching is not only a profession, or a set of tools to unlock inner potential and achieve our goals, or a leadership style, or a way of being. Coaching would also be the philosophical answer to existentialism: people aren’t predestined to live their human condition in the hell of disorientation, merciless self-judgment and miscommunication but there is a pathway, a practical guide to personal freedom.
People can break the hold habits, unlearn the old system of rules, and break the “domestication” to achieve awareness and freedom.
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I write about organizational patterns, transformational leadership, healthy businesses, high-performing teams, future of workplace, culture, mindset, biases and more. My focus is in leading, training, and coaching teams and organizations in improving their agile adoption. Articles are the result of my ideas, studies, reading, research, courses, and learning. The postings on this site and any social profile are my own and do not represent or relate to the postings, strategies, opinions, events, situations of any current or former employer.
This article has been published for the first time on danieledavi.com by the author Daniele Davi’.
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