Everyone knows the golden rule, right? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's so much a part of our consciousness that we rattle it off without too much thought. It's like - what's the expression - motherhood and apple pie? A couple of weeks ago I saw a fridge magnet with a variation. It said, "do unto others as they would have you do unto them."
That got me thinking of a bumper sticker I saw once that had another variation: "do unto others before they do unto you." There are probably other versions floating about. So, it makes me think. What's the best one line summary for how we ought to treat others?
The Christian version of the golden rule - and by the way, there are similar edicts in all of the major world religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism and Islamism (see http://philosophy.tamu.edu/~gary/bioethics/ethicaltheory/universalizability.html) - comes from Luke 6:31 (TNIV) which says: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Pretty straightforward. But is this a verse that can be lifted out of it's context and applied to every person in every situation? Is it a universal command? Here it is in the context of Luke 6:27-31 - embedded in a section entitled "Love for Enemies":
27 "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Aha!!! This puts a different spin on it - at least it does for me. It's not so much "do unto EVERYONE as I want them to do unto me" as "do unto my enemies, those who curse me, mistreat me, abuse me, steal from me - unto all of them - do unto them as I would rather they were doing to me." So - treat the people who are mistreating me, as if they aren't mistreating me. Treat them with respect, care, compassion - love! Treat my enemies like they are my friends. Lavish them with love.
Luke goes on to say (in verses 32-36):
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."So - if I'm to treat my enemies like friends, how should I treat my friends? Should I treat them like I want to be treated? Or, should I treat them as they would like to be treated? Or, is there yet another option: to treat them in such a way as to do them the most good? I think these would all result in different actions on my part.
When I think about it, I realize that the way I'd like to be treated may not always be what is best for me. It follows, then, that the way others like to be treated may not be what's best for them either. Actually, it may be a lot easier to treat ourselves in ways that make us feel good - who doesn't like to be indulged or flattered? But is that all there is to love? Maybe the highest expression of love is to treat others, not as we like to be treated or as they would enjoy, but in the way that does them the greatest good.
I know. Who decides on what's best for any of us? It's not easy and in our society - let's face it - it's a feel good, indulgent culture we live in - there's a good chance we may be misunderstood if we're aiming higher. Teenagers, for example, often don't appreciate parents who make decisions based on what they believe to be in their teens best interest. Our friends and enemies may be similarly skeptical of our motives if we suddenly stop indulging them. Well - think about it and if you're very brave, try it out. Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.