The Domestication of Humans, from The Four Agreements

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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So how did humans get in such a predicament? Toltec wisdom explains how we got stuck conforming to society’s rules and stunting our true selves.

We all have individual, personal dreams. But those who came before us created a bigger dream – the “dream of the planet.” This dream created everything we see as normal in our existence: family, community, city, and the world. It encompasses laws, religion, cultures, and all of society’s rules.

Our parents are the first to teach us about this outside dream. As we grow, school, the media, churches, and other aspects of our environment hook our attention and tell us what proper behavior is.

  • We’re told what is right and wrong.
  • We’re told how to behave, what is acceptable, and what to believe.
  • We learn a specific language that wasn’t our choice.
  • We didn’t choose our own names, yet our name becomes a core part of our identity.

All these rules and understandings of how the world works, everything we accept as true, is an agreement. We agree what’s good and what’s bad. We agree to a religion or a set of beliefs. We agree what constitutes proper behavior.

When we accept an agreement, we believe it unconditionally. Our belief systems and our personalities are made up of thousands of these little agreements. We surrender to these beliefs.

We are born into this system of beliefs – this societal dream – through no choice of our own. We’ve been exposed to it for so long that we can’t fathom living or thinking any different way.

Domestication of Humans

The process of surrendering to these outside beliefs is called “the domestication of humans.”

As children, through this domestication process, we’re trained just like dogs. We’re rewarded for doing what Mom and Dad want us to do. We’re punished when we go against the rules. We fear punishment, but moreso we fear being rejected and not being good enough.

In this process we become someone different from our natural selves. We lose our normal, innate tendencies in this process of domestication. This is why adults behave differently than kids – adults are more efficient and productive perhaps, but also less joyful, inquisitive, and free.

At a certain point we become our own domesticators. We don’t even need an authority to threaten or punish us. Our belief system – the Book of Law – rules our minds. The Book of Law consists of all the agreements we’ve accepted as truth.

Despite its limitations, the Book of Law makes us feel safe. It’s our understanding of how the world works, and it represents order in a world of chaos. We may not have chosen these agreements, but we agreed to them. And they don’t change easily – challenging our own beliefs takes courage.

The Domestication of Humans, from The Four Agreements

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Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

2 thoughts on “The Domestication of Humans, from The Four Agreements

  • April 9, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Whatever your true intent is, I feel you have chosen well. From the excerpt of this book to the choice of companies you are creating, I can appreciate the direction you are headed.

    May the very best continue to come from within you…

    Best of Everything,
    Beautiful Days,

    Darren Martin

    • April 13, 2020 at 9:43 am

      Hi Darren, thanks for your kind words. Our goal is to spread the world’s best ideas and help people use them to improve their lives. It’s about as simple as that. Thanks for reading!


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