Far be it from me, a mere mortal, to question the teachings of a messiah and son of god, but something has always struck me as fundamentally flawed with the golden rule.
Several verses in the Christian report of Jesus of Nazareth claim he said something along the lines of Mathew 7:12:
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This is commonly paraphrased as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I think the assumption we make when we read this is that how I want to be treated is how others want to be treated. There’s a huge problem here, and I hope I’m not the first to notice it: some people don’t want to be treated the way I want to be treated.
Putting aside the masochists and other perverts who want to be actively abused, if you don’t think a behavior is appropriate, then you have no problem persecuting that behavior. For example, if you are homophobic, even if you follow “the golden rule,” then you don’t see any problem with hating homosexuals, because if you were gay, you would hate yourself. On the flip side, there’s a lot of behavior that we might want from others, that they would find abhorrent. For example, Harvey Weinstein would have probably really liked for any of the Woman he harassed and attacked to masterbate or shower in front of him. He was just doing unto them as he would want done unto himself.
As I approach my half–centenary, I have placed a lot of effort into studying my own short comings as a person, and I admit to many. I realized that treating other people the way I want to be treated is amazingly narcissistic. It’s not about me. How I want to be treated may be nothing like how others might want to be treated.
So, after careful consideration, talking to my amazingly empathic partner, and watching a lot of Doctor Who, I realized that the answer was right in front of me all the time: Just be kind. That’s it. Just kind.
Kindness means recognizing the needs of the people around me and trying to meet their needs, not forcing my needs upon them. I fail at this constantly, but, again, IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. I have to keep trying, keep thinking about the people around me, think about how I can show them kindness.
This is utopia thinking, I know. It’s completely unrealistic and might even be against human nature. But it is the very definition of what we call humanitarian. It means that in order to understand why homosexuality is not a crime to be persecuted DOES NOT require that I personally know anyone who is gay and empathize with them, it simply means that I be kind to everyone.
But be warned, although the answer is obvious, the solution is difficult. Kindness is not something that is as easy as all that. Being kind for most of us takes a lot of effort to put aside our own needs, biases, and pre-conceptions. It means that we have to not just put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, but it means letting down our guard, listening to them, and stepping outside our own perceptions.
There is, of course, a limit to this. I need to preserve myself, and not do things to others that I don’t want done to me. However, I’m finding the rewards for kindness are great. I am calmer, less anxious, and I like me more. So, this winter solstice time, when the shadows are longest, I invite you to start practicing kindness to others and see how they treat you back.