Does the Golden Rule stand the test of time? Where did it come from? Is it enough?
This week I read two articles that mentioned the Golden Rule in a way that stunned me. One comment was in a newsletter via email by a well-known writer and the other was an article in a wellness magazine. Both writers implied the Golden Rule is faulty and that "there's a certain shortcoming" to it.
This broke my heart 💔 for two reasons. 1. I've always assumed the Golden Rule was perfect. 2. I thought discrediting the Golden Rule would also discredit the one who taught it.
Writers are told to write what you are passionate about. Well these comments prompted a strong reaction from me and I researched until I came to a satisfying conclusion. How I started out was NOT where I ended up. My initial goal was to disprove their statements, instead I ended up agreeing with them!
This study project enhanced my appreciation for being open-minded, humble and willing to listen to the opposing side. I gained knowledge and more importantly I learned the value of critical thinking, asking tough questions and searching for answers.
You may come to a different conclusion and that's ok because I'd rather you do your own thinking instead of taking what you know for granted (like I did).
Questioning our beliefs can be scary because it may lead us to doubt what we have longed believe in. But it doesn't always have to be that way, sometimes it can reinforce our beliefs.
A Universal Teaching
I incorrectly assumed the Golden Rule was found only in the bible even though the term itself isn't found in the bible.
Many of the world's religions or philosophies appeal to mankind's need for a higher moral code. This pursuit for a higher moral code by sages implies that we are students in life and we benefit ourselves and others if we ALL live by the same universal truths.
The Golden Rule is one of those higher universal moral truths taught by various sages throughout history.
I discovered 3 important concepts about the Golden Rule:
The Golden Rule can be found in various religious traditions.
There is one version that is better than the rest.
The Golden Rule is not enough.
Let's discuss these three concepts one at a time.
1. Variations of the Golden Rule
I found 6 variations of the Golden Rule (although there could be more) that represent various religions and time periods. They are arranged from earliest to latest.
"Do not hurt others with that which hurts yourself" (Buddha, 563-483 BCE)
"What you do not want done to you, do not do to others" (Confucius, 551-479 BCE, China).
"This is the sum of all duty: do nothing to others which, if it were done to you, would cause you pain" (Hindu Mahabharata text, 400-200 BCE).
"What is hateful to you, do not do unto others" (Hillel, Jewish sage & contemporary of Jesus, died 10 CE).
"Do unto others whatever you would have them do unto you" (Jesus, 31 CE, Matthew 7:12).
"None of you is a believer until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself." (Muhammed 570-632 CE).
They all sound pretty similar and endeavor to teach the same thing, right? True! But one of those statements stands out above the rest.
2. One Version Better Than the Rest
Take a closer look at those variations. Notice anything different? Which version stands out from the rest?
Jesus wasn't the first person to teach his followers how we should treat others, in fact he's pretty late in the game when comparing the timeframe of the other leaders. But he was the first person to teach the Golden Rule proactively. He spoke, not in the negative, but elevated the Golden Rule to be about the positive actions we should take in behalf of others.
4 Other Reasons Jesus' Version is Better
While all of these sages claim to he holy, none but Jesus identified himself as the son of God.
If you believe in God, then you accept Jesus' teachings as coming from God. Jesus often said what he taught belonged to his Father, not himself.
The Golden Rule is but ONE TINY aspect of biblical teachings about how to treat others.
Jesus practiced what he taught, even dying for his faith.
3. Why the Golden Rule Isn't Enough
The two articles I mentioned earlier both agreed that the Golden Rule was not enough to guide our actions because "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" assumes that we want the same thing the other person wants.
But what if I don't want to be treated your way? What if I want something different than you want?
Is the Golden Rule teaching us to think selfishly?
Does the Golden Rule mean we should neglect the feelings and preferences of others? Although the wording may appear so, Jesus and the other sages were NOT teaching selfishness!
Here are 3 statements that demonstrate the wrong way to apply the Golden Rule:
My favorite dessert is apple pie and that's what I'll bake for my friend even though she loves cheesecake. 🍎🍰
I need to talk to my friends every day (extrovert), so my friends must need me to check in with them every day (too bad introverts). 📞
My love language is touch, but my spouse's love language is words. I'll just hug them silently every day to show my love. 🤗
Yikes! You can see how you could be happily following the Golden Rule and yet be completely disregarding the needs of others.
Clearly this isn't what any of those sages intended to teach us.
What Does This Mean For Us?
I'm NOT by any means advocating that the Golden Rule is faulty, wrong or old-fashioned. It is still one of the most important and thoughtful teachings we can follow, but it's not enough. Following the Golden Rule in ISOLATION of all other healthy principles can lead to faulty thinking.
The bible is full of practical and helpful wisdom to balance us out, let's just consider four of them.
4 principles that complete the Golden Rule
Be Observant and Unselfish
Philippians 2:4 "Look out not only for your own interests but also for the interests of others."
Romans 12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep."
Matthew 22:39 "You must love your neighbor as yourself."
Proverbs 11:25 "The generous person will prosper."
How you apply the Golden Rule along with other universal moral teachings identifies the kind of person you are.
Questions for Meditation
What higher moral code or lifestyle do I gravitate towards or imitate?
Am I helping others only when there is a clear benefit to me?
Am I helping others to boost my self-worth versus giving unselfishly?
Am I content with not hurting others but feel no need to be of real help to anyone?
Do I take into consideration the needs or preferences of others?
If you're following the Golden Rule, you are doing WELL. If even half the world followed this teaching our world would be way more pleasant to live in.
But in order to be complete, we need to follow more than just the Golden Rule including remembering that no one is perfect! So allow for mistakes, including your own.