Consecutive Days Riding: 152 Days Blogged: 136
New Mileage: 3 Total Trip Mileage: 1049
As I ride the bike tonight I find myself thinking about the “Golden Rule.” In western society it is most common presented as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule, in its various forms, is a feature of all of the major world religions. I also know numerous atheists who embrace the rule, by choice not as a dictate by the divine, they are very moral and socially conscious people. I have come across a number of social and spiritual world movements that propose using the golden rule as the basis or core principle to bring the diverse peoples of the world together. As a youth I always figured that the golden rule was without question the best approach to take when dealing with people different from ourselves. When in doubt, follow the golden rule!
However, as I moved out into the world I grew more and more puzzled by the fact that we as individuals, communities and nations often perpetuated behaviors towards others that I would not want to experience myself. I observed times when people in need, were excluded from aid because “they didn’t deserve our help.” I observed (as recently as the Iraq War) and read in our history of times when we started and visited war on people and cultures (e.g., the Native Americans), because “it was us or them” or “it was our destiny” or “it was God’s will.” I personally had doors slammed in my face because of my religion (something I was born into). I stood by and watched as white cops talked about “our niggers” and sat in a sauna as old white men talk about “sending in the Klan to burn them out.” I remember watching as white residents of non-flooded suburbs of New Orleans blocked the roads and turned back other citizens who were attempting to flee the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
I came to realize that the golden rule was clearly an ideal, but one that many individuals, groups, communities and nations failed to achieve, and in some cases seemed to not even attempt. In addition, I found it fascinating and disturbing that I would at times find people who insisted they were following the golden rule even when it seemed apparent to me that their efforts (the “do unto others” part) was creating suffering and distress in those on the receiving end of the behavior.
I believe this “distortion” of the golden rule occurs in part because of a potential short coming within the rule itself. The rule comes in two general forms. The positive form which in general states: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” While the negative form in general states: “Do not do unto others that which you would not want done to you.” This second form is sometimes called the “Silver Rule.”
Studying both of these forms we see that each has what can be called the Behavioral Command Component (do unto others or do not do) as well as a second Evaluative Component (you would have them do or you would not want done). It is with this second component that a potentially destructive distortion can take place. For one needs to evaluate what behavior or actions is desired and wanted, however, both forms use an evaluation of needs and desires of the person initiating the behavior not the person receiving the behavior. This was highlighted for me during a discussion with a devote Christian who was commenting on his church’s effort to “bring Christ’s message” to the tribes of Southern India. I asked if it was possible if these people were happy with their existing faith and that the missionary efforts might be upsetting a delicate balance in such locations. I asked him if it would not be better to follow the golden rule as we might find it disturbing if Hindu missionaries began showing up in our communities with requests that we abandon our long held beliefs. His response was: “Oh No, if I was a Godless heathen I would want to be saved.”
This leads me to what some people have called the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others that which they themselves desire.” This rule presents us with a significant challenge, for to follow it we must listen and inquire about the other’s needs, and suppress our desire to tell them what it is that they need. This rule still contains the same Behavioral Command Component; however the Evaluative Component focuses on the needs of the receiver not the giver.
It is my understanding that Christ and Buddha did not tell us to “go forth and do for others those things that make us feel good.” I believe that both great teachers, and many other teachers, wanted us to address the needs of the needy not our well meaning but often egotistical needs. I’m reminded of a sense of sadness I experienced as I listened to a missionary tell a crowd that his efforts had saved a quarter million South African souls during the summer. Then he added: “We can’t feed them, we can’t give them jobs, we can’t offer them protection, but we saved their souls!” His statement was met with “Amen” and praise. I’m sure many of the people who were saved were thankful, but what about all those other needs. Do you think if they were given a choice, would “being saved” be their top choice? But then again, who are they to know what they really needed?
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