Dissecting The Golden Rule

The concept of the Golden Rule can be found in every major religion and ethical tradition in one form or another.  It is the ethic of reciprocity and the standard by which different cultures operate to resolve conflicts. But whatever the form, it demands that people treat others in a way which they themselves would like to be treated.

Note some of the following examples:

Buddhism: Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.  -Udana-Varga 5.18

Confucianism: One word which sums up the basis of all conduct…loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. – Analects 15.23

Taoism: 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

Zoroastrianism: Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself. – Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

Islam: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. -Prophet Muhammad, Hadith

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. – Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty – do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. – Mahabharata, 5:1517

Baha’i Faith:  Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself. – Baha’u’Hah, Gleanings

If you’ll notice, the above versions have one thing in common: they tell us NOT to do bad to others (with the exception of Islam, but it, too, has a qualifier when it implies that one is NOT a believer if s/he fails to practice the rule).

In the Christian version, Jesus takes the Golden Rule in a different direction in Matthew 22:37-39:

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

JC takes a more positive and proactive approach than the others. This is not to say that Christianity is a superior religion to the others, but JC’s teaching goes beyond the negative formulation of not doing harmful or hurtful things to others to a positive formulation of actively doing good to others, and if one were to find himself in his neighbor’s position, he would desire to be treated with the same dignity, respect, and love in return.

We are instructed on what to do, rather than on what we are not to do. There is nothing passive about JC’s version; it is a directive to follow and apply.

What I like about JC’s version is that it calls us to inspired action. It calls us to go and do and to do it with the energy and power of love. The connotation of fear is non-existent; it doesn’t imply that we’ll suffer repercussions should we not follow the rule. I find it more empowering than the other versions.

But the Golden Rule is more than a code of conduct when it comes to dealing with others. It’s more radical than we think because it calls us to love across religious, racial, and cultural divides…and it extends to our enemies.

Can we do this?  We can certainly try.  But it will take a radical shift in our thinking, which JC calls for in his version of the Golden Rule.

Consider this in context of JC’s version:  You are a creative expression of God, a divine masterpiece, and so is the person next to you, the person in front of you, the person behind you, and so on. Spirit is what connects us to one another because we are Spirit and Spirit is us. The way we treat ourselves and others is the way we treat Spirit.

There is no separation.

Does it matter how the Golden Rule is stated?

4 thoughts on “Dissecting The Golden Rule

  1. elly stornebrink

    Great question Penny! I think it does matter how it is stated. You bring up a valid point. Why focus on what you don’t want? The Law of Attraction states that you will get more of that. Why not express it in a positive way? If you read my previous sentence, the mind negates the word ‘not’ so it reads it as “Why express it in a positive way?” 😉 <3
    elly stornebrink recently posted…Frolicking Fun Friday: Two (2) Awards?!My Profile

    1. Penny McDaniel Post author

      You know, Elly, I thought the same thing about the Law of Attraction. Focusing on what we DO want sends energy (prayer, meditation, etc.) in that direction so that we create the space for more to come our way.

      Thanks for dropping in and sharing your insight.


  2. Judy - Pedagogical Artist

    Yes, Penny, IMHO it does matter how the Golden Rule is stated. The difference between religions and cultures is in the nuances. In Hebrew there is another similar Golden Rule: “Love the other as you love yourself.” The point here is that it states “as you love yourself” – not MORE THAN you love yourself, which raises a fundamental question: when push comes to shove, in life death situations, what should be your first consideration – your life and the lives of your children or the life of the other? Not a simple question. Not a simple answer.
    Posts like yours, Penny, are so important – to share knowledge, to create awareness and trigger dialogues.
    Thank you, HUGS <3

    1. Penny McDaniel Post author

      Hi Judy.

      Yes, “as you love yourself” adds a level of selflessness, and the question it poses is, can we attain that level? The emphasis is on unselfish loving, whether or not we are being loved in return. But as you brought up, when push comes to shove in a life and death situation, to whom will you give your consideration?

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.


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