Book Review: “The Four Agreements”

Toltec Wisdom Book

My father gave me “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz for my birthday. My father is one of the most evenhanded people I know: he rarely gets angry, loses his composure, or even raises his voice. He practices Tai Chi twice a week. He’s pragmatic. He lives a simple life, not full of overmuch excitement, but also not full of any reversals of his good fortune.

I have learned a lot in recent years from my father. Once I decided to start paying attention, I found a lot of myself in him. Not an uncommon situation, I don’t think.

Right on the cover, “The Four Agreements” proclaims itself as a “practical guide to personal freedom.” Not many people are very free in today’s world. Whether its their iPhone, their spouse, their lack of funds, their anxiety, or their crippling fear of missing out, almost everyone I get to know has a laundry list of issues and neuroses which seem to interfere with their lives. I have my own, of course.

I run a blog called “This is youth.” I have a staked interest in making myself as free as possible.

I read “The Four Agreements” in one day. It is a short book, 140 pages double-spaced. The tone is conversational. The pages fly. This book is worth your day.

(But if you're too lazy, here's the basic Toltec thesis for a good life)

(But if you’re too lazy, here’s the basic Toltec thesis for a good life)

“The Four Agreements” puts forth a framework for experiencing the world based on ancient Toltec teachings. The philosophy of the book reminded me of Zen, in the way it advocates flowing with the world and letting go of resistances and ties to the past. These four Agreements in the text essentially recommend stripping away as much of the societal framework from your thinking as possible. It is not stated directly as such, but it’s hard to imagine the Toltec approving the way thousands of little ties with which we restrain ourselves every day.

Grudges, assumptions, personal feelings, what-if scenarios. These are all black situations which Don Miguel Ruiz advises you to leave behind. He encourages readers to embrace every moment of life anew, the way a child does.

While this line of argument may seem naïve and impossible, I challenge you to think about your own life. Things are usually best when we are fully in the moment, not preoccupied, not judging, not answering work e-mails on our smartphones. It is a difficult concept to consider, but really, why can’t we live our lives that way all of the time?

It may be idealistic, but hey. This is youth.

The problems with “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities”

Pledged

Here’s a fun fact about fraternities and sororities:

all of the stereotypes are true.

Here’s a fun fact about my life:

I founded a multicultural fraternity my freshman year of college.

Here’s how those two fun facts fit together:

although the stereotypes may be true, they don’t come close to giving you a complete picture of what Greek life is like for those who live it. And these stereotypes serve as a crutch for people who are not willing to understand the complex relationships which drive Greek organizations. This is the real issue I have with Alexandra Robbins’ “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities,” a decade-old expose of Greek Life which I just finished reading. It does not live up to the promise of the title. The book has no secrets to share. “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities” simply regurgitates the common cultural narrative, without trying to unpack why it is that narrative holds such pull. “Pledged” is cheap.

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