THE GOLDEN RULE: In A World Of Complex Problems…It’s The Simplest Solution

February 15, 2012

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:

CHRISTIANITY:

“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)

JUDAISM:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.  This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.”–Talmud, Shabbat 3id

ISLAM:

“None of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”–An Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13

BUDDHISM:

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”–Udana-Varga 5:18

HINDUISM:

“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.


IN DEFENSE OF TELEVISION—-If It’s Making You Dumber…You’ve Only Yourself To Blame

March 31, 2011

Whatever your problem...it's not the TV's fault.

Got a problem?  Surely, there’s someone you can blame.  Americans love to point their fingers at anything that will help explain, rationalize or otherwise dismiss any of their own faults and shortcomings.  Unfortunately, most seem to forget that old playground proverb that says, “whenever you point a finger, there’s always three pointed right back at you”.  Nonetheless, everyone still seems to have an excuse for everything.  Too fat?  It’s genetics.  Your kids do poorly in school?  It’s ADHD.  Fed up with politics?  It’s the Republicans.  No matter what ails you or what predicament you face, there’s someone other than yourself to blame.  And nothing shoulders more of that unwarranted blame than Television.

Pick a problem plaguing our world today and you’ll surely find someone saying that TV is at fault.  Violence, laziness, ignorance, corruption and moral decay all have their bony fingers pointed directly at the glowing black box that sets innocently in every one of our homes.  But just as with all of our other problems, affixing blame onto television is ensuring that the blame is misplaced.  Viewers shoulder the blame.  We shoulder it not only for our viewing decisions, but also because of the ways that we relate to the content of the programming choices we make.  Television will give back exactly what we seek to get out of it.  The way in which we engage with television will determine the results.  So if your TV is making you dumber, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

I’m sure you’ve heard all this before.  Many have already made the argument that if we would just pick up our remotes and change the channel from MTV to C-SPAN, the world would be a better place.  If only we could just see fit to watch “Masterpiece Theater” rather than “Jersey Shore” our culture could arise from its cesspool of iniquity and once again thrive.  This is not my argument.  Television doesn’t need to be ‘high-minded’ to have a positive influence.  What matters is how we respond.  Even the simplest or tawdriest of programs can be meaningful depending on if and how we seek to derive meaning from them.  My argument deals more with the way we process information and less with the substance of the information that is provided.  TV programming of all varieties can prove to be enlightening if we as viewers make the choice to put our minds to work.  As soon as we make the choice to allow TV to merely serve as a mindless daily sedative, then that is exactly what it will become.

For instance, ABC’s “The Bachelor” is one of the most inane shows ever conceived.  It is a show that promotes narcissism, materialism and shallow relationships and stars a group of irrational, young bubbleheads who share the word “amazing” as the only adjective in their collective vocabulary.  At first glance, this show possesses no redeeming qualities and quite possibly makes anyone who watches it not only stupider, but also a little more cynical and shallow as well.  But is that really true?  We all watch TV from a subjective vantage point, so depending on the viewer’s attitude and disposition, perhaps even this monstrosity could reap positive results.  For those who watch analytically and make sure their brain remains working even while the TV is on, doesn’t “The Bachelor” have plenty to say about the flaws of modern relationships?  Personally, when I watch, I’m often wondering to myself what makes it possible for a young woman to honestly believe she’s in love with a man who is simultaneously sharing intimate moments with other potential suitors.  “The Bachelor” may not be an accurate reflection of relationships in 2011, but that doesn’t mean that when its layers are peeled away there isn’t still something valuable to learn about human nature.  By resisting the temptation to get caught up by the choreographed drama and emotion that the show’s producers try to create, you’re left with the chance to ponder the motivations and desires of good-looking, seemingly successful young people and how they approach finding a mate.  As shallow as “The Bachelor” is, it still allows you the chance to think deeper, if you’re so inclined.

When we put our brains to work, lose our passivity and become actively engaged in our programming, almost any show can escape its seemingly narrow confines and provide us with something worthwhile.  Take MTV’s “Teen Mom” for instance.  On its surface, and similarly to a whole host of other ‘reality’ shows, “Teen Mom” is nothing more than basic voyeurism.  It is providing the viewer a simple opportunity to gawk in amazement at the sorry state of those who are less fortunate than themselves.  But this is a show that, if viewed with a curious rather than judgmental mind, can provide an immense amount of information and insight into a phenomenon that affects countless people across the country.  “Teen Mom” is not just about the poor parenting techniques of 16 year-olds, it’s about incredibly important issues such as abortion, adoption, domestic violence, the value of education and the role that healthy families play in sustaining a productive society.  If it is viewed merely as a shocking spectacle, it loses its potential to teach.  But if we go beyond just ‘watching’ and seek to understand how it reflects the world around us, following a show like this can be an enlightening experience.

The same is true for a whole host of shows.  We watch “Hoarders” and “Biggest Loser” and “American Idol”.  It can be entertaining and emotionally engaging, but at the same time, can’t it also be educational?  We’re fascinated by their situations, their addictions and their ambitions, but can’t we also be stimulated by the lessons they provide about materialism, consumption and our quest for fame?  “The Biggest Loser” should not be seen as a show about weigh-ins and silly competitions.  It’s a show about our culture’s relationship to food, our declining active lifestyles and our search for fulfillment in all the wrong places.  But in order for those lessons to sink in, we have to actively seek them out.  It’s analogous to going to the zoo or a museum.  We can walk through and be fascinated by the animals and the displays and be on our way, or we can stop and examine the details, read the presentations and absorb their broader purpose.  If we want television to be more than just an attraction, then the responsibility is ours to make that happen.

However, that responsibility also includes a caveat.  Active thinking is not the only requirement necessary to make watching television educational or meaningful.  Unfortunately, it also matters “what” we’re thinking about.  If you watch a national cable news broadcast and through its false presentations it compels you to ponder whether or not our President was actually born in America, then you’re probably not accomplishing anything positive.  If you watch endless hours of sports commentary and it leads you to waste your mind contemplating which team should win Friday’s big game, then you’re also on a fool’s errand.  Following the nightly parade of police blotter details on your local news may get your mind whirling, but chances are all that thinking won’t bring about many worthwhile results.  It’s great for a viewer to be captivated by a show, but if all the show is doing is causing them to reflect on a certain celebrity’s dancing ability, then perhaps it’s not the most effective use of their mind.  We should all be able to recognize for ourselves if the programs we’re watching have the capability to provoke constructive thought.  In all of the previously mentioned examples, constructive thought is indeed a possibility.  Making our television watching meaningful requires the viewer to not only make wise choices, but to also then be conscious of the reaction those choices will most likely to draw out.

If what I’ve just described seems to require too much effort, don’t worry.  There is an unprecedented amount of television programming out there that by its very nature is enlightening and doesn’t require any mental discipline to achieve its beneficial results.  Grab your remote and everywhere you turn you’ll find a show about remodeling your kitchen, the lifestyles of ancient Mayan civilizations or how to cook delicious bbq brisket.  You can learn about swordfishing and wilderness survival in the afternoon and catch up on genetic science and American history later that evening.  Anyone who wants to bemoan the value and educational capabilities of television is certainly not paying close enough attention.  Stimulating, thought-provoking television is available for even the most discerning of tastes.  And the networks that broadcast these shows are not just relegated to the periphery.  Channels like HGTV, Discovery and The Food Network are some of the most-watched cable channels on the air.  Whatever topic interests you, whatever subject stimulates your brain, you’re sure to find a presentation of it somewhere on your television dial.  If a viewer was so-inclined, they could focus their viewing exclusively on educational programming and still never run out of options.

But how many of us are quite that dedicated about their TV viewing habits?  Even though we may aspire to make television-watching a worthwhile endeavor, the intelligent, high-minded programming often loses out.  We watch TV because we want to laugh, because we want to be entertained and because we want to root for our favorite teams.  Television serves as an escape, so naturally people are going to be quick to choose shows like “The Office” instead of a new episode of “Frontline”.  There is nothing wrong with this phenomenon.  But as with almost every option we encounter in our consumer culture, moderation is the key to achieve positive results.  It’s okay if you like to eat donuts, just try not to have one for breakfast every single day.  The same is true for television.  You may like to watch “Family Guy”, but you probably shouldn’t make that your choice every night.  As I’ve already explained, something of value can still be taken away, regardless of which show you choose.  Perhaps you missed out on a captivating recount of the 2008 financial crash when you chose “The Office” instead of “Frontline”, but who’s to say that some biting satire of corporate culture, mixed in with a few laughs, can’t be just as enlightening?

Those looking to place the blame on television for whatever social ill they have in mind will probably not be swayed by my arguments.  Many just reflexively view TV as a sub-standard format that will always be playing catch-up with the “more intellectual” entertainment options like cinema, live-theater and books.  I can still remember the desperate pleas of my English Teachers imploring us, for the sake of our own cognitive futures, to turn off the TV and pick up a book.  I will always be someone that defends the value of literature , but I never understood why TV received such a bad rap.  Reading can be a wonderfully enriching enterprise, but there are aspects of our lives and our culture that can be much more accurately reflected and conveyed through a television screen.  And let’s not pretend that the breadth of idiotic TV programming isn’t matched by an equally wide breadth of idiotic books.  I recently went on vacation and paid particular attention to the reading choices the people around me had made for their flight and for their time on the beach.  Everywhere I looked, my fellow vacationers had their noses buried deep in celebrity biographies, factually-challenged political screeds, dime-a-dozen mysteries and dull religious hot air.  I saw no one reading the classics, no how-to books, no research-driven non-fiction and and nothing that rose above what’s innocently known as “light reading”.  Books are great, but there’s no way that reading Sarah Palin’s latest offering is anymore enlightening than watching an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”.  They’re both fluff and both should only take an hour to get through.

The biggest problem with everything I’ve just laid out is that ultimately, the quality and depth of each individual’s television-watching experience is completely up to them.  It’s this unfortunate circumstance that gives the ‘blame TV’ crowd its most compelling argument.  TV can actually be dumb.  It can be violent, it can be lazy and can be apt to reflect a shallow understanding of our world.  But that’s not TV’s fault.  On the whole, TV responds to what the market demands.  If vast majorities of our society wanted smarter programming, then it would most likely be so.  But our society instead demands hours of cop shows about dead hookers, over-dramatized ‘reality’ programs, dishonest newscasts and exploitative spectacles of those who are downtrodden or different.  TV gives that to us because apparently that’s what we want.  But TV did not create those desires.  Our flawed inclination to watch awful TV is caused by a whole host of factors strung throughout every fabric of our culture.  Blaming television is merely making it a scapegoat for broader problems.  Television is not so much the cause as it is a reflection.  The opportunity exists for all of us to allow television, even in its current state, to have a positive affect on our lives.  So sit down, tune-in and bask in its enchanting warm glow.  TV is your friend and it doesn’t deserve your scorn, because if watching TV is making you dumber…you’ve only yourself to blame.