The Golden Rule

For my entire life I have heard people talk about the Golden Rule – you know the one – “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. It exists in just about every religion in varying forms, but I think the Buddhist version is the best: “Put yourself in the place of others and harm none nor have them harmed” (sorry Jesus). It is much more about what the person wants or needs than what you or I think they want or need. It seems that everyone is in agreement – treating each other this way is the best way to live. I think that’s great. And yet …

And yet – I don’t see this put into action as often as it could be, and I have to wonder why. We have seen our share of people living the Golden Rule during the pandemic, and we have seen our share of them not. Such a simple thing – wearing a mask – has become less about helping others and more about individual rights. The Golden Rule is about the exact opposite of individual rights – it is about putting the needs of others, and the community, before your own. This isn’t supposed to be done in a way that injures you or me, but enhances the lives of others. If we were to be honest, I think we would have to admit that much of the time, people live by the other Golden Rule – the one with the Gold makes the Rules.

You and someone else get to a parking spot at the same time, and you let them take it. You see a neighbor’s mail piling up and you don’t just take it home for safekeeping – you ring the doorbell to see if they are okay. You see someone’s lawn sign has been knocked down and you put it back in place (even if you don’t like their politics). Small things, for sure; but Jesus didn’t say we should only do big gestures for others – He said we should just do.

The Golden Rule extends to every aspect of our lives – our care for the earth, our voting, our work – all of it can be lived through the lens of doing for others the way we hope they will do for us. That might mean that we act in ways that might not be our choice – it might mean that we think about the common good before our own opinions and wants. The Golden Rule isn’t about getting our way; it’s about letting others get what they need, even if we don’t understand. We should never do for others those things that will injure them or someone else – that would be counter-productive. We can, however, seek harmony over selfishness.

I wonder how different each day would be if every one of us would do one thing that fit into the Golden Rule. I can imagine that the world might become a little kinder – a little more peaceful – a little less combative – and we might find that this works really well. Or we could just keep living for ourselves. That’s working out pretty well, don’t you think?

Prayer – We are so grateful that You, merciful and patient God, have given us the tools we need to make the world a better place. Give us the courage to use those tools wisely. Amen.

Today’s art is one of my favorite – Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule”.