The fifth agreement is: be skeptical, but learn to listen. Be skeptical because most of what you hear isn’t true.
You know that humans speak with symbols and that symbols aren’t the truth. Symbols are only the truth because we agree, not because they are really the truth.
But the second half of the agreement is learn to listen, and the reason is simple: When you learn to listen, you understand the meaning of the symbols that people are using; you understand their story, and the communication improves a lot. Then perhaps instead of all the confusion among humans who inhabit the earth, there will be clarity.
Once you realize that hardly anything you know through symbols is true, then be skeptical has a much bigger meaning. Be skeptical is masterful because it uses the power of doubt to discern the truth.
Whenever you hear a message from yourself, or from another artist, simply ask: Is it truth, or is it not truth? Is it reality or is it a virtual reality?
The doubt takes you behind the symbols and makes you responsible for every message you deliver and receive. Why would you want to invest your faith in any message that is not true? By being skeptical, you don’t believe every message; you don’t put your faith in symbols, and when your faith is not in symbols, your faith is in yourself.
Then if faith is believing without a doubt, and doubt is not believing, be skeptical. Don’t believe. And what will you not believe? Well, you will not believe all the stories that we artists create with our knowledge.
You know that most of our knowledge isn’t true—the whole symbology isn’t true—so don’t believe me, don’t believe yourself, and don’t believe anybody else.
The truth doesn’t need you to believe it; the truth simply is, and it survives whether you believe it or not. Lies need you to believe them. If you don’t believe lies, they don’t survive your skepticism, and they simply disappear.
But skepticism can go in two directions. One way is to pretend to be skeptical because you think you’re too smart to be gullible. “Look at how intelligent I am. I don’t believe in anything.” This is not skepticism.
To be skeptical is not to believe everything you hear, and you don’t believe because it’s not the truth, that’s all. The way to be skeptical is just to be aware that the entire humanity believes in lies. You know that humans distort the truth because we are dreaming, and our dream is just a reflection of the truth.
Every artist distorts the truth, but you don’t need to judge what somebody says, or call that person a liar. All of us tell lies in one way or another, and it’s not because we want to lie. It’s because of what we believe; it’s because of the symbols we learned, and the way we are applying all of those symbols.
Once you are aware of this, the fifth agreement makes a lot of sense, and it can make a very big difference in your life.
People will come to you and tell you their personal story. They will tell you their point of view, what they believe is truth.
But you won’t judge if it’s truth or if it’s not truth. You don’t have any judgment, but you do have respect. You listen to the way other people express their symbols, knowing that whatever they say is distorted by their beliefs. You know that what they are telling you is nothing but a story, and you know that because you can feel it. You just know. But you also know when their words come from truth, and you know without words, and that’s the main point.
Truth or fiction, you don’t have to believe anyone’s story. You don’t have to form an opinion about what someone says. You don’t have to express your own opinion. You don’t have to agree or disagree. Just listen.
The more impeccable a person is with the word, the clearer the message will be, but the words that come from another artist have nothing to do with you. You know that it’s nothing personal. You listen and you understand all the words, but the words no longer affect you.
You no longer judge what other people say because you understand what they are doing. They are only letting you know what is going on in their virtual world.
You already have the awareness that all artists live in their own dream, in their own world. In that world, whatever they perceive is truth for them, and it could be that it’s absolutely true for the artists who are expressing their story, but it’s not truth for you.
The only truth for you is what you perceive in your world. With this awareness, there’s nothing to prove to anyone. It’s not about being right or wrong. You respect whatever somebody says because it’s another artist speaking.
Respect is so important. When you learn to listen, you show respect for the other artists—you show respect for their art, for their creation.
All artists have the right to create their art in whatever way they want. They have the right to believe whatever they want to believe; they have the right to say whatever they have to say, but if you don’t learn to listen, you will never understand what they’re saying.
Listening is so important in communication. When you learn to listen, you know exactly what other people want. Once you know what they want, what you do with that information is up to you. You can react or not react, you can agree or disagree with what they say, and that depends on what you want.
Just because other people want something, that doesn’t mean you have to give them what they want. People are always trying to hook your attention because through the attention they can download any information. Many times you just don’t want that information. You listen; you don’t want it, you ignore it and change directions.
But if that information hooks your attention, then you really want to listen to find out if what someone is saying is important to you. Then you can share your point of view if you want to, knowing that it’s just a point of view. That’s your choice, but the key is to listen.
If you can understand other people’s stories, and they can understand yours, then together you can create the most beautiful dream.
Excerpted from The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery. Copyright © 2010 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D., Jose Luis Ruiz, and Janet Mills. Reprinted by permission of Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc., San Rafael, California.