“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12
Most religions, cultures, or ethical algorithms have a form of what Christians call the Golden Rule.
Hinduism says “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain of done to you.” Mahabarata 5:1517
Islam claims “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” Muhammed, Hadith
Judaism teaches “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.” Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a (500 BC)
Zoroastrianism offers “Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29 (500 BC)
Buddhism instructs “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5.18
Taoism states “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218
So what? If you subscribe to C.S. Lewis’ logic in “Mere Christianity,” the similar ideas found in different cultures around the globe at least suggest the existence of a supernatural being above man who instilled the same ideas across cultures that didn’t communicate. If you don’t subscribe to the logic of Lewis, this shows that man has an innate sense of ethics that he has failed to follow since recorded history commenced.
Either way, I’m left with the question of “why do we fail so miserably at following such a simple rule that has permeated most cultures as long as there have been cultures?”
Here’s a crazy idea: Altruism is a purely mythical virtue. People simply don’t do things purely for the benefit of others, and never have. Even when someone makes a concerted, sincere effort to follow the golden rule, at some point they become disillusioned and stop due to the fact that it’s not working out well. And by “working out well” I mean people grow weary of doing good to others if they don’t see it coming back, boomerang style. Even the Christian Saint Paul recognized this, as he wrote in his letter to the Galatians
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal.6:9
My wife says “the proper time” may very well be in the afterlife. That’s some pretty darn delayed gratification if you ask me though. I’m not sure I’m that patient. For this reason, I follow the golden rule about like some people quit smoking. I do it for a while, and then I become disgusted by the fact that no one else is doing likewise to me, so I stop until a New Year’s resolution kick starts me again.
But here’s the problem with the ancient rule of worldwide sages: people want to be treated different ways. Sometimes, I’ll go a whole day following the golden rule by not talking to people and keeping to myself. Someone else maybe following the same golden rule as they come into my space and chat about football. We’re both following the same rule, but it comes off to the victim as rude or obnoxious on both counts.
With this said, I’ve come to the conclusion that the maxim is not meant to be managed in minute matters so much as generally. I shouldn’t give everyone key lime pie because I like key lime pie, but I should give, because I like people to give to me. The unspoken but critical corollary to the golden rule seems to be “Listen.” That one seems easy to apply. Listen, because you want to be heard. If you want a gift, offer others a gift, but listen to what kind they might want. If we put the Golden Rule together with other bits of wisdom such as “Love one another” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it might start working out a little better, but then again, I’ve got to remember to be more patient and not become weary in it, expecting a harvest before it’s ripe.
I’m glad I wrote this out. As I’ve said before, Docendo disco et scribendo cogito.