The rule is neither the ordinary eye for an eye, nor the soulless you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours, nor the legalistic quid pro quid. The maxim is rather a moral code with deeper significance. If practiced with imagination, wisdom and sincerity, it can be the catalyst for fostering better understanding and respect between individuals and communities alike.
More commonly referred to as The Golden Rule, this powerful ethic of reciprocity is better recognised as ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
The quote comes from King James Bible, but this simple nontheologic principle is not committed to any religious doctrine. Over 2,500 years ago Confucius advised that what one does not want done to oneself, should not be done to others. And variations of this compelling guidance, with essentially the same focus, exist in most major religions and ethical systems.
Islam, Judaism, Zorastrianism, Hinduism and Sikhism, to name a few, emphatically subscribe to this notion of treating others as one’s self would want to be treated. The sayings of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) too, are replete with references to such judicious reciprocity, as well as discipline and consideration in human interactions.
Deliberately and selfishly, however, we are not interested in positive tolerance between peoples. Although we can rationalize and distinguish between right and wrong, and the obvious virtues of peaceful coexistence, due to our obstinance and to a large extent ignorance, we continue to destroy.
Deaths, destruction and despondency are sad outcomes of religious and political intransigence, but it would be so much better if we appreciated the abundance around us and accepted our differences. We all desire universal unity.
One may say, however, that such harmonious existence is just a cliche. But as the renowned philosopher Oliver Thomas proposes, if the Golden Rule is applied with openmindedness and compassion, it has the potency to become motivation for better inter-connectedness between different people, races and nations. There is, of course, no guarantee for a perfect world, but being aware of the impact of our deeds and being willing to give, and give-in, would be a good way forward.
Thinking about giving calls for a little digression. I have previously described giving as a great game that is played on a limitless field, with or without spectators. It has rules but no time limits, and the glory is in participation.
The joy and elation comes from commitment, just as it would every time we implement the Golden Rule. Effective application of this rule obviously depends on how much we can imagine ourselves on the receiving side of our actions. And for this, Dr Linus Pauling, the two-time Nobel Prize winner, had the perfect advice – do for others twenty-five percent better than that you would expect them to do to you. The extra being for any error.
The injunctions of the conduct of reciprocity can be positive or negative. Treat others like you want to be treated; do not treat others in a way that one does not want returned; and wish upon others that you would wish for and on yourself. President Kennedy made effective use of these dictums in an anti-segregation speech at the time of black enrollment at University of Alabama. He touched on imagining being treated as second class citizens on the basis of skin colour.
The heart of the question, he asked, is whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated?
The essence of this simple yet powerful rule is eloquently summarized in the all-encompassing advice from the fourth Caliph of Islam, Imam Ali. His wisdom pretty much defines the Golden Rule: Make yourself the measure in your dealings with others; and always desire for them what you wish for yourself.
Do not oppress, as you surely do not want to be; and hate for others what you hate for yourself. Do the good that you would want done to you, and regard for others whatever you so regard for yourself. Behave with others the way you expect them to behave towards you; and finally do not say what you would not like to be said to you.
Take heed of these gems, and make this world a better place.
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