Do unto others?

by Todd Hebert on October 16, 2012

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“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” said Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. The Jewish Talmud, in Shabbat 31a, says, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” Muslim Prophet Muhammad said, “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.” Siddartha Gautama (Buddha) was recorded in the Udana-Varga as saying, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Is this starting to sound a bit redundant?

Every major (and most minor) religious tradition has it’s own version of the Ethic of Reciprocity, or Golden Rule. Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism, Sikhism, pagan traditions, even Scientology share this universal rule. Of course, the Golden Rule is not strictly religious. Humanism echoes the rule in the Humanist Manifesto, as do philosophers Kant, Plato, and Socrates.

If ever there were a universal law that applies to people of every nation, religion, creed, and persuasion, The Golden Rule would have to be it. But is it really universal? No, of course not. Like any rule, there are always exceptions. There are always flaws. There are always multiple interpretations. The Golden rule, as mutually accepted as it, has two main problems:

  1. What the “other” actually means is not explicit.
  2. It simply does not always apply.

Do unto “others” as you would have “others” do unto you.” But who exactly are the “others?” This is the first flaw of the Golden Rule. Does it apply only to family and friends? Some apply it that way. Does it only apply to those who share the same religious beliefs, ethnic heritage, racial background, or social status? Many apply it this way. Apparently it’s extremely difficult for people to extend the “others” beyond people similar to themselves. Pick up a newspaper and it becomes pretty apparent. Or better yet, pick up your favorite holy book.

In the Bible you’ll find accounts of entire tribes being wiped out, killing people of pagan religions, executions of homosexuals. You’ll also find slavery and inequality of women. The Qur’an promotes equal treatment of non-Muslims in some places, but in others it promotes killing non-Muslims.

The second problem with the Golden Rule is that it does not always apply. People are different. What is beneficial to one may not be beneficial to others. For instance: a person preparing their favorite steak recipe for a vegetarian, a Christian imposing their views on a devout Muslim, or a nation imposing their way of life on another nation.

Many people follow the Golden Rule to a certain extent, but usually live their lives by another rule: “Do unto others as they do unto you.” If someone is kind to you, you are kind in return. If they treat you with disrespect, you disrespect them. What is interesting about this other rule is that it just happens to be one of the main teachings of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. This reactionary version of the Golden Rule is perhaps more realistic than the traditional version, but obviously not ideal.

A much more accurate version of the Golden Rule might be something like, “Do the right thing.” Bam! Plain and simple. If it’s good enough for Spike Lee, it’s good enough for humankind.

It’s not as if we need a new golden rule. Simply adopting a new universal Golden Rule would not bring about worldwide utopia. But seriously, it should be considered. “Do the right thing” doesn’t impose one’s tastes or views on another, like the tradition rule does. There is no ambiguous “other” to have to interpret.

Of course, there is that pesky phrase: “right thing”. What is the right thing? What is right for one isn’t necessarily right for the other. Bah! Scratch that.

“Respect.” There it is. That’s the new Golden rule. It’s all about respect.

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