You know what I think of when I think of the word “impeccable”? I see Felix Unger from The Odd Couple. Remember Felix? He was impeccable in his behavior. Tidy and organized, precise. Precision, yes, that’s what I think of.
But the way this first agreement flows, Be impeccable with your word, well, the word “word” modifies the word “impeccable.” Impeccable is the adjective, and yet the object is what seems to modify in this case. We’re not talking about washing a dirty dish the moment Oscar lays it on the table after eating a hot dog. We’re talking words, powerful, meaningful words. Words that we yield.
They can be swords, daggers, a pat on the back. I remember a note from a colleague, not too long ago, that made me cry, a note she sent me by email in response to a note I had sent to someone else. My note was just a short thing, three or four lines giving praise to a new person we’d hired. I wanted the manager of that person to know how impressed I was with the new person’s attitude and performance. The colleague whose note made me cry had seen my feedback and said something like, “Roma, in case no one has told you today, thank you for caring so deeply about the people you work with.”
Just that one line. She was impeccable with her word. It was a reverberation, me being impeccable with mine, then me getting it back from someone else.
Don Miguel Ruiz says that with this first agreement alone, we can transform our lives. It’s that powerful. Don’t criticize unduly. Don’t abuse others with your words. Importantly, say what you mean and mean what you say. Live up to your verbal commitments. Be impeccable with your word even as you use it on yourself. Don’t let your inner critic bring you down. Those are words, too, the ones inside your head.
Dad was impeccable with his word. Words were important to him. They still are. He still wants to be heard. When I was a teenager and unwilling to listen, he wrote his words down in two or three letters he then slipped under the closed door of my bedroom or left on the kitchen table for me to open after he left for work. He was like Felix Unger in some ways, a tidy man with small and precise handwriting. His handwriting is shaky now, but then his writing looked like a professional cursive font.
The letters he wrote on yellow legal pads, and so he fit a lot of words on them. He told me the things he had tried to say to me but that I would shut down. What was important to him, the things he wanted to pass on, the wisdom he wanted to impart. He worried about me, the friends I had chosen, my boyfriend. He acknowledged that even though I had many bad habits, I was still keeping up my grades, and for that he was grateful.
He did pass something on to me, didn’t he? His honesty with words. That’s a powerful gift. And Mom passed on her love of words, too, the gift of gab, the love of gossiping. And even though don Miguel Ruiz says that gossip is a form of not being impeccable — and what exactly is the opposite of “impeccable”? Peccable? — I don’t believe that gossip is always bad. Not when it binds a family, becomes part of the way they communicate. A network. Stories passed down.
No, I think the opposite of being impeccable with your word is being careless and messy, or being mean-spirited with your precision, using your words like a scalpel. We can cut out a piece of someone’s heart with our words. Or making a commitment and then not meeting it.
And when we’re not impeccable, like I can tend to be at times, that’s human. But for the most part people are good. We just make mistakes, all of us, at different times. Sometimes we go through many years making the same mistakes, and other times, maybe when we’re older, we start to see our patterns and try harder to not repeat them.
-Related to post WRITING TOPIC — THE FOUR AGREEMENTS