The Golden Rule Redux
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
The Golden Rule (no, not the “those with the gold rule” – the other one!) is a universal statement of human morality and empathy found in all major religions and through all of recorded human history. No matter how it has been expressed, its central tenet is clear. My own preference is actually for Jesus’ contemporary Rabbi Hillel’s version of the Rule: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” The reason I prefer this version to the admittedly more upbeat Christian version is this:
What the Golden Rule assumes is that we well-know our self interests. While this may sound harsh, the instinct to life and to living a life of abundance, and the instinct to selfishness, is implicit in the Golden Rule’s admonition that we treat others as we would wish to be treated. I expect that in most instances, people are self-regarding enough to make the Golden Rule ‘work’. Or at least it can be made to work at a basic worldly level of materialism and social status. But does the Golden Rule work well for all of us and for everything?
I think that we all have met people who are extremely giving and selfless to an extent that we will shake our heads and either lament that we cannot be more like them, or lament that they are inadequate to the fundamental task of looking after their own interests. The wife and mother who willingly takes on the role of slave to her husband and children is almost an archetype. We may say: “But it makes her happy”, but at the same time we would not, ourselves, choose to be as she is. Or, how many of you have wanted so badly to give to a friend but cannot for they aren’t willing to receive your gifts? There are clearly people who are better-able to look after other’s interests than they are able to look after their own. In terms of the morals of society, self-sacrifice is seen as a very good thing, and the more self-sacrifice someone practices, the more ‘moral’ they are.
But I wonder? We already have God’s love if we choose to accept it – that is a given. But we do have to choose to accept it. We cannot be like your friend who hasn’t the grace, or the sense of self, to receive your gift. And if we really believe that we are here to glorify God and to do God’s will on earth, what better place to start than with ourselves? Is it selfishness to glory in the abundance of God’s grace, of God’s earth, of God’s love? Or are we doing what we morally ought to do, to accept His love with gratitude because we know that we ourselves are a part of God’s bounty. We ourselves embody God’s goodness, and we are responsible to God to love ourselves, for we are God’s creatures too. And if we can do this – if we can see our moral obligation to act with kindness, compassion, and love towards ourselves because we are God’s – then, and only then, does the Golden Rule make sense.
Peter’s Thoughts for This Day!