Wherefore Art Thou Golden Rule?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – The Golden Rule. There seems to be a deterioration of the Golden Rule in today’s society.
The Golden Rule appears in varying forms in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and Seneca.
The Golden Rule is a precept of the Gospel of Matthew (7:12): “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . . .”
I can’t think of the Golden Rule without envisioning my mother’s smile.
As children, there was an expectation including the planting and nurturing of this rule in our ‘character garden’. In planting this seed, our mother lived every day as an example of how to care for, water, prune and produce wonderful fruit from resulting tree.
This may sound overly metaphorical, but if you had known my mother, you would know this wasn’t a stretch.
My mother took this even one step further. She was famous for her saying, “Return kindness for unkindness.” Where you have heard to “kill them with kindness,” my mother believed in “loving them with kindness.” And you know what? It worked for her. It created a group of people who adored her and her acts of unconditional kindness. She inherently treated the Golden Rule as if it were the 11th Commandment.
Me (this guy)
Me? The Golden Rule? Uh, I’m a little more stubborn than my mother. Okay, a lot. Though I was a little more ornery growing up, the Golden Rule and kindness accompanied me as I left my familial surroundings and took a run at the world.
I discovered individuals who vehemently challenged these teachings, questionably worthy of such niceties. And there were times I ashamedly “treated others” the way in which they “deserved to be treated”—or so I justified.
The problem with treating some of these individuals in this way was it left me feeling less-than-Shari-ish (my mother’s name was Shari).
However, if someone was rude and I treated them with kindness and followed the age-old Rule, I would walk away feeling the better (good one, mom). I may have still felt a frustration at the person’s actions, but I was successful in harboring my tree and doling out its good fruit.
The main challenge is being in the moment. I’m brilliant at hindsight and back-judging the situation. Making those correct decisions—actions—while the moment is full-on is where, the kids say, “The struggle is real.”
Returning to the Golden Rule
Though the Golden Rules is foundational in Christian practices, it is arguably a rule of common sense. Can one argue treating others as you would want to be treated would throw our world into a negative spiral? Again, common sense would advocate for the rule to exist and to be graciously applied.
What negatives could arise from the application of the Golden Rule. I would suspect you could view this rule as exposing a person to certain vulnerabilities. In treating others with respect, we are attempting to impose our good intentions on others, or at least hoping their character will be swayed by our disarming actions.
In a society that champions individual rights—occasionally at the expense of the greater good—we are understandably careful in opening ourselves to vulnerability. We must consider the circumstances which may not only leave us exposed but have the viral ability to incorrectly judge us in “incremental” or “snapshot media.”
Though this thinking may seem a little paranoid, in reality, it can cause us to overthink our Golden Rule behavior. It can make us delay our commonsense response to situations, leaving us feeling suspect. In delaying our response, we can miss the opportunity to apply the rule and better the situation overall—simple, missed opportunities.
Another perceived downside is the view that following the Golden Rule is a mere sign of weakness. There will always be those taking advantage and seeing self-serving opportunities in this character trait. There are those chasing political and financial leverage in dealing with someone having the Golden Rule character trait. The word “naive” certainly has to cross their minds.
Asking myself if the Golden Rule is worth it, I would have to return to my mother. I cannot imagine her not being kind. I cannot imagine her not following the Golden Rule. It was part of her being. There was no separation between her and these acts. She was genuine.
Worth it? I can’t think of her without smiling.
Worth it? Those around her were drawn to her genuineness.
Worth it? She set a standard which has profoundly affected others, migrating down through two more generations of her family line (so far).
Though my younger children were unable to get to know my mother to the extent my older kids did, they are fortunate to have their own mother that exhibits the same temperament and traits—go figure, I married someone like my mom (insert Freudian reference here).
In fighting the good fight, instill the Golden Rule, it’s Worth it!
Also published on Medium.