I was taught the Golden Rule before I knew it by that name. Whenever I used to do mischievous things to my older sister as a young boy, my mother would pull me aside and ask me, “Would you like it if she did those things to you? No? Then don’t do them to her.” I found that logic to be very persuasive, even as a child, and in retrospect it’s very impressive how effective my mother was at modifying my behavior with such a simple concept. I was also taught to extend that principle to others, as my mother explained that God appears in different masks, even as beggars and other destitute people, to test you to see whether you were kind to every person you met or not, whether you treated them as you wish to be treated.
For us as adults, the Golden Rule remains just as simple and powerful. Be kind to others. Think about how much joy you get in life when you are the subject of someone else’s kindness—imagine how great others would feel if you did the same for them. There is hardly any culture or religion that suggests otherwise. This Golden Rule is the conscious decision to always put yourself in the shoes of another before conducting yourself in a way that will have a direct effect upon that other. The amazing similarities of the quotes below show how eight completely different religions are saying virtually the same thing.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
—The New Testament, Christian text
“The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.’”
—[Al-Bukhari], Hadith 13
“That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.’”
—Hillel the Elder in The Babylonian Talmud
“Choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.”
—Baha’u’llah, Baha’i prophet
“One should not behave toward others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.”
—Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva 113.8), Hindu text
“Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.”
—Udanavarga (5:18), Buddhist text
“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, Daoist text
“Tzu-kung asked, ‘Is there a single word which can be a guide to conduct throughout one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘It is perhaps the word “shu.” Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.’”
—The Analects (15:24), Confucian text
Science, Philosophy, Psychology
“The good which every man who pursues virtue aims at for himself he will also desire for the rest of mankind, and all the more as he acquires a greater knowledge of God.”
—Baruch Spinoza, Enlightenment philosopher
“If it’s really true that all religions have this ethical principle, across continents and across centuries, then it is more likely to have a hardwired scientific basis than if it was just a neighborhood custom.”
— Donald W. Pfaff, Ph.D., neuroscientist
One of the great things about the Golden Rule is its sheer simplicity and pithiness. It can capture an entire moral infrastructure in a short phrase There’s nothing complicated about this. It is only logical that when we all treat each other the way we would want to be treated, we all flourish. The Golden Rule works in the spirit of enlightened self-interest. So, if you throw garbage out on the street, the resulting filth will generate disease which will impact all equally, for bacteria does not recognize class or color. Climate change effects all, so it makes sense to mind one’s carbon footprint. Think how wonderful the world would be if we could all finally put this one simple Golden Rule into action on a day-to-day basis!