Agreements- Keeping and Breaking Them (Pt. 2)

By: Robert White Friday December 13, 2013 comments

This response by Robert White was to a question from a graduate and staff member, “Do circumstances justify breaking an agreement, especially ones that could not have been predicted when an agreement was made?  When, if ever, is it alright to break agreements?”

The context for this discussion of agreements, or regarding many other concepts used in our coaching and training, is formed by the following:

  1. We deliberately exaggerate and amplify all concepts for presentation in seminars.  Our intent is to interrupt patterns, beliefs and other conversations.  One of the design and delivery methodologies to accomplish this is to be unreasonable and even outrageous.  One of the biggest problems we have with staff and committed graduates is that they don’t see the distinction that the seminars are not real life.  They are tools to create a specific set of experiences so that you go back to life better prepared to notice, to be responsible and to communicate effectively.  We want to better prepare people about how to use the coaching or seminar experience to accelerate their efforts to create an “extraordinary life.”

  2. Whenever any coaching participant or graduate begin to use a training concept as a weapon or in an absolute, static way, it is usually done as a manipulation for their gain and/or defense.  Any communication grounded in making the other person “wrong” could be and usually is suspect.  My experience is that when pressed, persons doing this demonstrate little or no understanding of the philosophy, values and spiritual basis for the concepts they are trumpeting.  Again, it is incumbent on the people who have some awareness of the power of agreements (or other concepts) to stress that even though we may present ideas in a very direct, even confrontational way, that is part of our experiential approach and not appropriate for most personal interactions following the program.

  3. A common misuse of good ideas is to press them on others even though the individual’s personal learning process is incomplete.  Perhaps they are in a stressed or conflict-filled environment or complete understanding is lacking and/or access to the relevant context and facts is impossible or being avoided.  People that do this are sometimes operating from ignorance or fear or a simplistic world view – said more simply, they either don’t think through their position or they are still “on their own journey” with incomplete personal learnings.

The notion in our work is that there are prices and rewards for both keeping and breaking agreements.  Ideally, we are leaving participants with the outcome that this is one of the tools we recommend for continuing self-discovery.  My sense is that occasionally they have fallen into the “this is the way it is” pronouncement from on high (the guru approach), as opposed to being just “something to look at and consider as possibly useful”.

My personal “take” from being exposed to these ideas for over thirty years is to make few agreements and keep the ones I make.  I’ve found this so valuable that I’ve even included a full discussion of the idea in my book “Living an Extraordinary Life.” 

An observation of myself in the past and of some other people, is that agreements are made too casually and usually for purposes like being liked or avoiding criticism or delaying a problem hoping there will be some miracle before the agreement falls due.

Here’s a question about agreements that is perhaps the most important one:

“If you keep all of your agreements, does that mean your life will automatically work perfectly?”

The answer, of course, is “NO!”

What keeping or breaking agreements consciously does is to “clear the fog”, to make it possible for us to see what is and is not working for us and for others in a given situation.  From that awareness, “fog free”, so to speak, we can make better choices.

We all know people who never break agreements and create terrible results in life and make everyone around them crazy.  We also know people who break lots of agreements and generate mistrust.  And then there are those few outliers who seem oblivious to agreements, yet somehow seem to maintain relationships in which they are, apparently for entirely different reasons, highly valued and appreciated by others.

Now to the specifics of the question, “is it alright to break agreements?”:

In the real world outside the coaching relationship, seminar room or ashram, YES.  Of course there are prices and rewards for broken agreements, just like there are for keeping them.  The world and human existence are fluid, changing entities.  That’s the world we live in and the world in which all accomplishment takes place.

The following caveats apply: 

  • It is important that broken agreements be communicated clearly, specifically, and directly with anyone affected by the decision.

  • The broken agreement communication is best delivered without righteousness, defensiveness, shame or guilt.

  • There may be a price in terms of reduced trust and credibility – thus the needs for # 1 and # 2 being handled with a clear, positive intention designed to maintain, even improve the relationship.

My final observation is that most of the time when people get on someone righteously about broken agreements, they have a mess of broken agreements in their own lives (at the conscious or subconscious level) or have unresolved broken agreements in their personal history or are simply naïve about agreements and accomplishment in the real world.

Robert White

About the Author: Robert White

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