The Four Questions: An Inquiry into Personal Responsibility

“You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward.” ~ Miguel Ruiz

In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz sets down a template for achieving happiness, peace, and love within one’s lifetime. He was highly influenced by the teachings of Carlos Castaneda. In honor of them both (Don Ruiz’s wisdom and Castaneda’s ruthlessness) I have come up with four questions that don’t even need to be answered to be effective.

The answers might seem obvious, but they’re still challenging. Just thinking about them and debating them has the potential to teach us a considerable amount about ourselves and about our tolerance of others.

Here are four questions that are hard hitting ~

1.) Is it better to be an unsatisfied free person or a satisfied slave?

“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

The menace of the past was that men became slaves; the menace of the present is that men become puppets. But there’s a fine line between slavery and puppetry. Freedom is something you do, not something you are.

It is not a given. It takes effort, courage, and determination; usually in the face of those who would make you their slaves, or puppets. One way to guard against slavery is knowledge.

Like Frederick Douglas said, “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”

"Those who do not move, do not notice their chains." - Rosa Luxemburg
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” – Rosa Luxemburg

But have no illusions, freedom is scary. It takes courage to maintain it. Sometimes it even takes going against the status quo.

Like Thoreau wrote, “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

But it is our own responsibility, nobody else’s, to maintain our own freedom and to keep those “in power” accountable. Otherwise absolute power has free-reign to rule absolutely.

Like John Adams said, “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.”

Answering this important question, and then being proactive with what the answer means, will help us to guard against both forms of slavery.

2.) Would you rather be apathetically indifferent or proactively responsible?

“To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.” ~ Irving Wallace

Being clear about this question is a matter of understanding the tug-of-war between Courage & Comfort, and that the rope is Fear. Being proactive and responsible requires being courageous about being uncomfortable.

“Twaddle, rubbish, and gossip are what people want, not action…” writes Soren Kierkegaard. “The secret of life is to chatter freely about all one wishes to do and how one is always being prevented –and then do nothing.”

This is what becomes of apathy and indifference: laziness, doing nothing.


Lest we too become lazy, it behooves us to be proactive and responsible. Like the fourth agreement says, “Do your best.” Which is easier said than done, sure. I mean, our comfort zones are preciously small things.

But like Tim Watts hilariously put it, “Apathy and ignorance are as helpful to you as trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with a sledgehammer.”

Don’t try to solve a Rubik’s Cube with a sledgehammer. Life is too short not to transform apathy into empathy and indifference into concern.

Like Einstein warned, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

3.) Do you prefer the bliss of ignorance or the pain of knowledge?

“The source of Man’s unhappiness is ignorance… The way he clings to blind opinions, imbibed in his infancy, dooms him to continual error.” ~  Baron d’Holbach

Wisdom begins first with not ignoring our own ignorance, and second with being proactive about curing the ignorance. We’re always going to be ignorant about something or other. But all ignorance can be remedied by asking the right questions and consistently fine-tuning the answers in a healthy way.

But the single most difficult thing a human being can do is admit when they are ignorant, even though we all know we are. So it takes diligence and immense circumspection.

Like Kathryn Schulz wrote in On Being Wrong, “Ignorance isn’t necessarily a vacuum waiting to be filled; just as often, it is a wall, actively maintained.”


As it stands, we need the fortitude it takes to knock down those walls, keeping them erect just traps in parochial nonsense and stagnant traditions. But before we can tear them down we need to be aware of them.

Conscientious ignorance opens the mind. Like Naseem Nicholas Taleb wrote, “Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinite.”

If nothing else ignorance is dangerous. We become less dangerous the more we know what we’re dealing with. Whether we’re dealing with kittens or tigers, knowledge could be the difference between accidentally killing a kitten or stupidly getting killed by a tiger.

Like the great Martin Luther King once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

4.) Would you rather be slapped with the truth or kissed with a lie?

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” ~ Stephen Binko

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” –Gloria Steinem
“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” – Gloria Steinem

We are kissed with lies every day, usually from corporate advertisements and corrupt politicians. But, like Rob Breszny says, “Hate hatred but don’t hate the haters.” It’s not worth bringing yourself down to their level. Like the second agreement asserts, “Don’t take anything personal.”

They have an agenda that they’ve been brainwashed into believing is necessary. If they want to kiss us with lies, then we have to slap the people who believe those lies with the truth.

Like the first agreement asserts, “Be impeccable with your word.” It won’t be easy. Not by a long shot. And it will hurt the people who bought those lies hook, line, and sinker. But the fate of the world could very well depend upon it.

In a world where the ability to lie and manipulate others is held up as the highest good, we have to be even more ruthless with the truth than usual. Just as we have to be even more cognizant of making assumptions (the third agreement).

This often means going against the status quo. But even if just one person rebels against an unhealthy untruthful order, we the people are more likely to be free to exist in a healthy truthful way.

Like Albert Camus wrote, “I rebel; therefore we exist.”

Image Source:

Truth will set you free

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Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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