In light of the U.S. election results, I found myself profoundly sad. Sad because bigotry and animosity had exploded in that country over the months we watched the forerunners state their claims. Hatred and exclusion based or race, or gender, or religion, or socio-economic status seemed to rise to super-star status. So how can we possibly thrive as a human race when this exists on our planet, let alone from one of the most powerful countries that inhabits it?
While driving to a distant destination I fortuitously turned on the radio station to hear a talk by Karen Armstrong, my favourite author of books on comparative religion. As it would happen, she was discussing “The Golden Rule,” which has been reiterated by most prophets over time. The rule as I understood it for most of my life states that we should do to others as we wish to be done to us. In other words, treat others as you wish to be treated.
Armstrong eloquently pointed out in her discussion that the Golden Rule was stated by Confucius five centuries before Jesus, and then later by others, who taught similar words. Confucius, however, stated the rule to mean that one must not impose on others what they do not wish for themselves. Now this turns the rule on its head.
Not only does the Golden Rule apply to positive behaviour, it applies equally to negative behaviour as well. If I wish to be treated kindly, I must be kind. If I wish to be treated fairly, I must be fair. On the other side of the coin, if I don’t like people demanding I adopt their belief system then I should let others believe as they wish. If I don’t like people stereotyping me by culture or race then I should treat all others on their own merit and not stereotype them. Herein, the Golden Rule covers much more ground.
Armstrong went further to say that we can reflect back on those things that have hurt us and upon experiencing these things we will then not do that to others. Perhaps this is the most powerful way to use the Golden Rule because we have direct experience with what has hurt us and what we do not wish to re-experience. It’s here that we can reflect back on the pains we have felt, allowing us to redirect what hurt us and adjust it accordingly. If someone cheated me in the past and it hurt me deeply then I now know how it will feel and I must not impose that which I do not wish to re-experience myself. Similarly, if someone has spread untruths about me and it caused emotional pain then I can adjust my behaviour to not cause similar pain in them. We all stand in direct experience as the recipient of negative behaviour and can now react accordingly.
Reflecting on The Golden Rule as Armstrong so powerfully explained on my journey in the car has strongly transformed the rule for me. It brought to light the wholeness of that rule and how it covers the repercussions of all behaviour: those I wish to have for myself and those I do not wish to have for myself and others. Since I have no control over the behaviour of others in any way, I can empower myself with behaviour I wish to share with the world and that which I do not wish to ever see. I desire all good things for others, no matter what country they live in. No matter what religion or spiritual belief system they adopt. No matter what gender, age, sexual-orientation, or socio-economic bracket they’re in.
Here’s going forward with The Golden Rule ever more golden.