What happened to the Golden Rule?

the-golden-rule.gifGrowing up I was always reminded of the Golden Rule, both at school and by my parents. Being raised in a Christian community this rule was always emphasized. It wasn’t always stated as “treat others the way you wish to be treated” but often in other ways such as, “show respect to your elders” and “always respect your teachers.” I have always believed that if all people could bring themselves to live by this ethic, humankind would be in a much better place.

The Ethic of Reciprocity, or what is better known as the Golden Rule, simply states that we are to treat other people the same way we would wish to be treated. It can be worded in various forms. Wikipedia describes this rule in three forms:

  1. Positive or directive form: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
  2. Negative or prohibitive form: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
  3. Empathic or responsive form: What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.

No matter how the rule is stated, it boils down to the word respect. Merriam Webster dictionary defines respect as “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc” or 
as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” So when a person shows respect for another then they treat that person the way they would wish to be treated.

What always astounded me about the Golden Rule is that all organized religions have this ethic.

  • In Christianity it is found in Matthew 7:12 (NRSV) of the Christian bible where it is written, ‘in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
  • In the Buddhist tradition it is found in a collection of verses known as the Udanavarga. In chapter 5, verse 18 of the Udanavarga it says, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
  • In Hinduism, it is found in their sacred scriptures Mahabharata 5:1517 where it is written, this is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
  • Judaism has it in two places, the Talmud and Book of Tobit. The first book of the Talmud is about Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. In Shabbat 31a. It states, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” In the Jewish scriptures, specifically the book of Tobit, it says, “And what you hate, do not do to any one.” (4:15)
  • In Islam, it can be found in a compilation of forty hadiths by Imam al-Nawawi, an influential Sunni hadith scholar. A hadith is one of various reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, it says, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

The Golden Rule is such a simple thing and makes a lot of sense. It begs the question, why is it so important to live by the Golden Rule. The answer to that question has to do with the idiom, “What goes around comes around” or stated another way, “as you sow, so shall you reap”. These are simply reminding us that when people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them. This is what the expression, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” refers to as well. An individual must accept the unpleasant results of something they have done. Really all of these expressions could be understood as karma, the law of cause and effect. Karma is a Sanskrit term that literally means “action” or “doing”. In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to action driven by intention, which leads to future consequences. Good intent contributes to good karma and happiness in the future, while bad intent contribute to bad karma and suffering in the future.

The Huffington Post article on Karma puts it this way:

“Everything we say and do determines what’s going to happen to us in the future. Whether we act honestly, dishonestly, help or hurt others, it all gets recorded and manifests as a karmic reaction either in this life or a future life…There is no exact formula that is provided for how and when karmic reactions will appear in our lives, but one can be sure they will appear in some form or other. One may be able to get away with a crime they committed, or avoid paying taxes, but according to karma, no one gets away with anything for long.”

What I find even more thought provoking is that science supports this idea of “cause and effect”.  Science, specifically Quantum Physics, is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. There is a theory known as quantum entanglement. According to Space.com, the theory states when changing one particle it changes the other even if they are on opposite sides of the galaxy, 100,000 light-years apart. In other words, they behave like one object even though they are physically apart. Einstein called this idea “spooky action at a distance”.

Quantum Entanglement: What It Is And Why It’s Relevant says,

“Quantum entanglement means that every action, thought, feeling and emotion is connected and can affect the whole in one manner or another. We are all made up of atoms, photons and electrons. We are all in a constant state of vibration. Our emotions, feelings, hearts and minds have the ability to affect what frequency our molecular structure vibrates at. Quantum entanglement is observed at a physical level, meaning what we do to one particle at one location, happens for another particle at the a different location.”

So even science reinforces the idea that every single thing that a person does, thinks, etc. has an affect. Now I know from experience that when I said something hurtful to a student or to a family member there was an effect. The impact was typically in the form of parental wrath or an angry family member.

9-11We’ve all felt the impact of the actions of an individual or group of people. There are many examples of this in history, such as the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. The affect of this event has made many people fearful and afraid to travel. We still feel the effects of the 9/11 attack in New York City as flight travel is much more cumbersome with all the extra security. Terrorism initiated by ISIL or ISIS caused much of world community to participate in a bombing campaign, bombing areas where the terrorists were located. What goes around comes around.

It’s fair to say that one person can impact the world. We just need to look at the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior to see this. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

So remember every action you take, every word you say to someone, or even every action you don’t take has an impact on your community, on your planet or maybe even the universe. It seems to me that in this time of Islamophobia, fear of terrorists, and anti-immigration, the Golden Rule is very much needed. Perhaps people (no names mentioned) who spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric ought to remember, “What goes around comes around”.

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Author: Sommer season all year

I am a retired school teacher. I taught high school for 35 years.