We live in a world beset by complex problems. Naturally, our inclination would be to assume that in order to solve those problems we need to divine equally complex solutions. It is my pleasure to assure you that seeking those complex solutions won’t actually be necessary. The answer to all that plagues our planet can be found in one of humanity’s oldest and most universal principles…you may know it simply as, “The Golden Rule”.
The maxim to “Do Unto Others As You’d Have Them Do Unto You,” sounds more like a reprimand from a kindergarten teacher than the answer for all the world’s ills. But we’ve marginalized the power of this idea by allowing it to be constrained to Sunday School classes and dusty philosophy textbooks. The Golden Rule is not merely a neglected childhood lesson, it is a naturally occurring shared value that speaks to the interconnectedness of all living things. It is a preeminent universal guideline that reminds us that the well-being of each individual is reliant upon the well-being of us all. When we ignore it…when we downplay its importance, we do so at our own peril.
The Golden Rule is the solution to our problems precisely because its absence and neglect has been the trigger that has brought all of our problems about in the first place. Millions go hungry, our environment is destroyed, violence is perpetrated, and the weak are exploited all because too many of us have not embraced the fundamental law we were taught to follow as children. The application of the Golden Rule would not so much be a fix as it would simply bring about a cessation of all the pressures that plague us as people. Our problems would be solved because the roots of those problems would cease to exist.
You may wish to dismiss my idea as childish or naive, but I would urge you to take a moment to look at the world around you, examine our collective predicament, and explain to me how a little adherence to the Golden Rule wouldn’t make all the difference. Would thousands be foreclosed on and forced from their homes if banks treated each customer as they would their own family? Would schools, deprived of finances, be crumbling if our elected officials saw each student as their own? Would we be slaughtering innocent men, women and children in foreign lands with our machines of death if we took the time to recognize our shared humanity? Would there be enough jobs if executives finally came to see that their bonus wasn’t quite as important as the salaries of a few more employees? Would children, all over the world, be going hungry if each one of us had a better understanding of the difference between a luxury and a need?
All of the obstacles we face are the product of a world ruled by greed, excess, expediency and the never ending thirst for power. All of us are capable of falling victim to those selfish motivations, but it only happens when we depress our normal human urge for empathy and dehumanize those who reap the consequences of our egocentric acts. Minorities are mistreated because bigots fail to see them as equals. The environment is destroyed because those responsible live far away from the destruction. Programs that promote the social welfare are cut because the victims remain faceless to those in power. Bombs are dropped because Presidents and Generals put uneven values on various human lives. The Golden Rule is a standard that forces us to confer equal worth to every other person on the planet. The major problems that human beings face are all created by those who are unwilling to acknowledge that equality.
The downfall of the Golden Rule is that we have a tendency to think about it and embrace it only on a micro or personal level. Mention the Golden Rule to someone and they’re likely to get images in their head of holding open doors and allowing fellow drivers to merge on the highway. Although those simple, everyday applications of the Golden Rule are incredibly important, why can’t we insist that we employ it on a grander scale? The Golden Rule can’t just be the standard that guides our interactions with strangers out in public. It needs to be the broad foundation of our whole society in general. It should guide our foreign policy and inform our economic priorities. It should be top of mind for every lawmaker, councilman, CEO, police officer, teacher, clergyman and leader throughout the world. The Golden Rule should be engraved in giant letters on the entrance of every public institution in the country. It should be the foundation of every corporate charter and printed on a plaque in every boardroom. Every sermon, every oath, every bill, every merger, every deal and every judgment should have as its backbone a firm comprehension of the Golden Rule and all that it entails.
The most brilliant aspect of the Golden Rule is its universality. The Golden Rule could be put into practice in all walks of life and almost no one should feel offended. This wouldn’t be like placing the Ten Commandments in a courthouse at the expense of non-Christians. The Golden Rule is a precept that can be found in one form or another in ALL of the world’s major religions and a whole handful of the minor ones as well. Listed below is an example from each of the five most prominent sets of beliefs:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”–Matthew 7:12 (NIV)
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.”–Talmud, Shabbat 3id
“None of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”–An Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”–Udana-Varga 5:18
“This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”–Mahabharata 5:1517
One cannot be accused of imposing their beliefs when it is a belief that is supposedly shared by all. On what grounds would one be able to object? And it goes beyond just the five listed above. Mohism, Taoism, Platonism, Sikhism, Quakerism, Jainism, Humanism, Confucianism, Baha’i Faith, Brahmanism, Ancient Egyptian beliefs, Native American Spirituality, Shinto, Sufism, Unitarian, Wicca and even Scientology all advance and embrace The Golden Rule in some iteration.
Doesn’t it speak to the truth and the power of an idea if it can be found in such a myriad of forms? If the solution that I’m pushing is to be dismissed, wouldn’t it require a dismissal of thousands of years of common human development and thought? The fact that the Golden Rule has a home in so many cultures says something meaningful about its place as an objective truth. Systems of society and belief have come and gone but the Golden Rule remains. The major questions of religion…Why are we here? Who shall we worship? How shall we behave?…produce multitudes of answers across the globe and throughout time. But yet humans, from all corners and all walks of life have somehow all agreed that “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You” always sounds like a pretty good idea.
We supposedly live during incredibly fractious times. Our population and our leaders are split on how to solve all of the largest issues of our day. No common ground can be found on taxation, education, civil liberties, health care, energy production, environmental conservation, public spending, government debt and every single other issue that lies somewhere in between. But I believe these divisions are entirely unnecessary and wholly a fabrication. We can’t find common solutions because we fail to embrace the common moral code that binds us all together in the first place. The universal nature and well-founded history of The Golden Rule proves that there is indeed a common moral thread woven throughout all of humanity that has the power to bring us together. Solving the problems of our day does not have to be fraught with political divisions. If as a people we could find the ability to let The Golden Rule be the beacon that guides our decisions, we would soon discover that we aren’t nearly as divided as we may have once believed.
Many don’t need to find that ability. Many in this world are already well aware of the power of putting others’ needs on an even field with those of their own. Unfortunately, the voices of those compassionate souls are often ignored by those in power. Active practice of The Golden Rule is much easier to find on our own streets than in the halls of Congress or in the boardrooms of corporate America. It should be the mission of all who realize the unifying power of The Golden Rule to see to it that this message of kindness be pushed onto those in power. Instead, we allow the forces of division and greed to constrain and diffuse our message. People and organizations and movements of all stripes have The Golden Rule as a pillar of their agenda, but those who live in the world of selfishness conspire to keep any thought of shared prosperity or sacrifice out of the halls of power. Those who know better must never allow themselves to grow weary of advancing their message of hope, and they must not allow the common bonds of compassion to be torn apart by the petty cultural divisions of the day.
The Golden Rule has its advocates and it’s message rings true for millions across the globe, but despite this fact, problems still remain. Our world is still awash in despair. Too many fail to live up to this most elementary of standards. Humans are a deeply flawed species and even though the concept of the rule is simple, it’s implementation can be incredibly complex. Regardless of how attractive my solution may appear, even the most hopeful of believers must concede the enormity of the task. So where does that leave us? How can we convince a global population of 7 billion people to leave aside their own selfish desires and come to realize that the only way to bring about a sustained peace and harmony is by ensuring that it is equally achieved by all?
I argued earlier that The Golden Rule needs to be embraced on a large, macro-scale, but it can’t materialize on that scale overnight. Those of us who wish to see a world where all are treated well have only their own individual acts at their disposal. If we want a world where The Golden Rule becomes the law of the land, if we want corporations to freely decide to put people over profits, if we want the entire globe to universally embrace the idea that others’ needs supersede personal greed, then the only thing we can control is how we each choose to lead our own lives. The only way for The Golden Rule to succeed on a grand scale is for individuals to take it upon themselves personally to give it a simple spark. It’s power can be exponential. How each of us choose to live our lives can affect all those with whom we interact. If we desire to see the human species reach its universal utopian potential, we must first dedicate ourselves to making the change within our own sphere of influence. Every time we choose to treat another human being with kindness and compassion we can inspire others to do the same. The bonds and interconnectedness we create with this kind of behavior will expand and strengthen if our adherence remains true. Anger, division, resentment and greed can all be marginalized if individuals decide to have faith not only in their own ability, but also in the ability of all of their neighbors to embrace The Golden Rule and let it act as the true agent of harmony that nature intended it to be.
If we allow The Golden Rule to be the solution to the problems we face in our own personal lives, it has the potential to become the solution to the problems we face collectively. Our questions may be complex, but the answer is quite simple…Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.