People hurt other people. Sometimes, we are selfish. We can be aggressive, or manipulative, or racist, or bigoted, or full of contempt. If you watch the news or spend any time on social media, you already know this. The more polarized we become, the more that we’re willing to hurt each other, it would seem. How is it that we can be so mean and vile? It’s depressing.
Thankfully, the opposite is also true. Just as we have the capacity to hurt, we have the capacity to encourage and support. We have the ability to build each other up and, maybe – just maybe – to celebrate our differences with a sense of community. It’s easy to focus on the negativity – our brains might even be prewired for it. But, I also believe that it’s possible to engage the world in a positive way and it starts by knowing ourselves.
From a faith perspective, I grew up following the Jesus tradition and, in that pursuit, I learned about something called The Golden Rule. You know it: Do to others what you would want them to do to you. And, to be fair, it’s not like Jesus had the market cornered on this – He was just paraphrasing something that came from Judaism hundreds of years before, and they had likely picked it from some other group. As it turns out, there are versions of this idea that surface in just about every major religious practice throughout history, from Confucianism to Native American Spirituality. There might not be a more universal truth.
Regardless of where you stand on faith, when it comes to building relationships, this is a fantastic piece of advice that has so much potential to revolutionize how we view others. So why hasn’t it? Why is it that we’ve had this idea for thousands of years and we’re still bullying each other and lobbing insults on social media?
Maybe there’s something about this idea that has become transactional. Parents and teachers love the idea of the golden rule because it helps during times of discipline. Brother hits sister and parent says, “Now, brother, would you like sister to hit you the way that you hit her?” Perhaps this context predisposes us towards vindication later in life. “Well, he hit me so I should be able to hit him back!!” The golden rule was never about transactional intimidation or redemptive violence. And we don’t mean to make it about this, but when we break it out only to discipline and not as part of a more regular practice, I wonder how that impacts us.
Or, maybe there’s something about the last half of the statement: as you would have them do to you. This is loaded and it implicates a need to actually know ourselves and to view ourselves in healthy ways. We are each valuable people. We are worthy of love and forgiveness and grace. It’s possible, though, that we hear messages that tell us otherwise. When that happens – when we think of our value as being compromised – how does this rule function then? Is it a byproduct that we treat others poorly based on how we see ourselves?
As I’ve come to understand The Golden Rule and as I’ve come to explore my own inner world more deeply, I have a new way of relating to this idea. I’ve been thinking about how is it exactly that I would want to be treated. It’s more than just not getting punched. It’s more than not being subjected to name-calling and bullying.
It’s way deeper than this.
So here are just a few of the things I’m going to do to treat you how I would like to be treated myself.
I will value you as a unique and complete person.
You are a human being with a unique makeup and with unique experiences. Your story may not resemble my story and that’s OK. You are complete just the way you are and you have value. Just because. I will not try to tell you that you are missing something in your life. You have exactly the resources you need.
I will listen to you and be present with you.
If I am to value you, the only way that I can learn about who you are is to listen. I will not interrupt or tell you a better way. I will listen to you and learn from you what it’s like to live your life – to experience the world in the way that you experience it. And I won’t pull away, even if I get uncomfortable. I will genuinely try to hear and understand your world.
I will care about you
I will care what happens to you. I will care if you are upset or scared or happy. I would much rather that you experience joy and happiness and I don’t believe that this comes at the expense of my own. But, I also know that to be human is to encompass far more than this. I don’t want you to feel pain but I won’t rush you through it. I’ll sit in it with you.
I will try to be what you need me to be
One of the important questions that my wife and I have learned to ask each other is “What do you need from me?” We do this because we both have natural tendencies to move into fix-it mode when a problem surfaces. Sometimes, this isn’t the best choice. From this, I’ve learned that what I believe is needed and what is actually wanted can be two different things. I won’t impose on you, but I will ask you want it is that you need. I will try my hardest to be that for you; you know better than anyone what would be most helpful.
I will be gracious.
In all of the ways that we might be different, I will hold to the truth that your experience, your worldview, your ideas are all equally as valid as my own. We may disagree. We may have ideas that appear to be polar opposites. But, I will be gracious. I can accept that just as my experiences in the world have shaped me, so have yours. You are living what you know, just as I am.
I will be generous.
In all of these things, I will not expect anything in return. Some interpretations of the golden rule can lead us down a path of thinking about entitled reciprocity – the idea that you must treat me the way I’m treating you. But this is not what it’s all about. Do to others as you would have them do to you without any promise that they’re actually going to follow through. There is no entitlement and I won’t expect you to do the same to me. I will do to you without any expectation of you returning the favor.
However, I would love it if you did.