In all the world religions there exists a form of what we Christians have come to call the “golden rule” that invites us to do unto others whatever we ourselves would want done to ourselves. This teaching derives from the Code of Hammurabi, in 1780 BCE, and says that for the common good, each individual needs to take responsibility for his or her actions and live an ethical life in order to create harmony in the world. Christians cite Jesus as the source of this idea, but it is clearly much older than Christ. This suggests what students of religious studies have long held, namely, that there is a “universal ethic” that runs like a thread through all the major world religions and philosophical systems.
One might think, then, considering the vast numbers of people who believe in this golden rule, that it would be easier to see evidence of the principle in action. One might even expect that it would be relatively easy to implement it in one’s life. Such is not the case, as evidenced by the increasing levels of violence in our world, the unkind words we encounter daily that hurt relationships, and the general lack of trust between people.
We are always certain of the levels of trust and respect we wish for ourselves; it’s much more challenging to envision those same things for those around us, especially those whose cultures and religious beliefs differ from our own. A lot of biases and egocentrism have to be overcome, but when one is able to do that and bestow on others a generous portion of affectionate caring, lives are changed, neighborhoods are strengthened, and nations healed.
As a moral guideline, the teaching is very simple and direct: if we were to really integrate it into our heart, it would become very difficult to engage in acts of violence against another human being, or even to engage in unkind words. That’s because the foundation of this insight is rooted in a profound sense of connection with others. Unlike many of our other moral teachings, this one doesn’t require any one specific thing as a cure-all; it guides us in such a way so as to allow our heart to determine which of our actions is best in harmony with the highest good of someone else. We embrace awareness of the interconnectedness of all persons as we share words and actions that impact others. Although many versions of this teaching are worded in the negative sense, (e.g., “Don’t do this to another if you don’t want it yourself”), we are in fact being called to a higher form of positive loving. It’s not enough to simply refrain from violence, we are challenged to actually seek out opportunities to serve each other in the name of a higher good. Showing compassion, being considerate of others, caring for the less fortunate, and giving generously are what can result when we follow this universal teaching.
From the current situation in Egypt to the amount of violence in the streets of Fort Wayne, to the amount of hurtful words that are spoken in our own families and spheres of influence, it is clear that something fundamental needs to change if we are to avoid a catastrophic end to our civilization. We have argued theologies and philosophies and economic systems until we have stockpiled enough weapons to destroy everything many times over. And despite our political leaders focusing on political solutions to the problem of violence, the issue isn’t political, it’s moral. Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. It’s time for a moral conversion to the fundamental idea of mutual respect. Regardless of the religious tradition in which we find ourselves, we are always free to choose a positive way to bring about God’s dream for all of us. One kind word results in more kind words. Loving actions beget an outpouring of more loving actions. That’s how the universe works, by God’s design, and it’s high time we surrender to this universal flow of God’s love.
Hoping your week is filled with opportunities to show more kindness and less harshness!