Life in the Kingdom Blog

The Golden Rule Revisited

And the way you want people to treat you, that is how you treat them. (Q 6:30)

This, of course, is the famous Golden Rule. We all know about the Golden Rule, and have since we were small. It's part of our culture. Perhaps we've even seen lists showing that the same basic sentiment has been expressed in every religious tradition. 

I have to admit that in the past the Golden Rule didn't really show up on my radar. It seemed so familiar, so bland, so ho-hum. If everyone says it, how "cutting edge" can it really be?

But in recent years, it's loomed larger and larger in my mind. Part of that is seeing it surrounded here in the Sermon in Q by saying after saying enjoining us to engage in remarkably selfless behavior. By seeing it in this context, what I've realized is that the Golden Rule is the epitome of selflessness. It's the reversal of the very source of our selfish behavior--our egocentric mindset.

To understand what the Golden Rule asks, I think, we have to understand how we essentially want to be treated. I think we want to be treated as an end in ourselves. In our minds, we are an end in ourselves. We intrinsically matter. Our welfare intrinsically matters. It is inherently important that we feel better, that our suffering is relieved, that we reach our goals. That's how we see ourselves on the inside, and that's how we want to be treated on the outside.

We, however, typically do not extend this status to others. They are in a different category. They don't matter intrinsically, only extrinsically. They only matter insofar as they have an impact on us. Indeed, to be perfectly frank, they are clearly there to serve our needs. This leads to what I always say about the ego in A Course in Miracles, that its basic dictum is "I am end and you are means." This means that I am the only intrinsically important one here. All others matter only insofar as they affect me. They are only serving their purpose if they serve mine.

We all know that mindset. It's that mindset we see in particularly inconsiderate people in our lives, right? Sorry, I meant to say it's the mindset that, to a significant degree, drives us all.

That mindset is, as I also like to say, the mother of all double standards. It is a constant underlying affirmation that what is right for me is not right for you, that it's right that I am treated with great care, but not particularly right that you are. I should be treated as an end in myself, while you should be treated merely as a means. 

The Golden Rule is so beautiful, and so universally beloved, because it represents the reversal of that mindset. It is the overturning of all our double standards. You can see that in the saying itself: "The way you want people to treat you, that is how you treat them." No double standards. The Golden Rule essentially says, "You are an end in yourself, just as I am." It says that you intrinsically matter. You matter without reference to me or to anyone. You just matter, in and of yourself, every bit as much as I do. Therefore, the care, respect, regard, and love that I want to receive as an end in myself, you should also receive. For you are an end in yourself. 

The Golden Rule is calling us to act out of that mindset, to behave toward others as if they really are ends in themselves, to treat them with the regard and consideration that befits their status as ends in themselves. An end in itself is by definition inherently important. So our behavior should honor that importance. And end in itself is intrinsically valuable. So our behavior should honor that value.

What would happen if we behaved from this mindset? Imagine going around thinking, "My neighbor is an end in herself, every bit as much as I am. That stranger is an end in himself, every bit as much as I am. My spouse is an end in himself, every bit as much as I am. I am not the sun here, with them being mere satellites orbiting around me. They are all suns in their own right. And I will treat them that way."

What would happen to our lives if we did that? To our relationships? To our world? Can you imagine anything as revolutionary as that single idea? The Golden Rule is the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else. May we go forward committed to using that key in every encounter we have.

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Robert Perry

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  • Robert, it does seem quite formidable to reverse this basic framework of our experience. Yet, I like how you said that if we do reverse it then it will affect everything. No doubt this equality is the nature of reality, the kingdom, that given a chance, it will naturally rush in to wash away this false dichotomy when we make attempts at this reversal.

    Greg, I too, wondered that she might have gotten the job after all. Yet, even if she didn't I think she received something far more substantial that will remain with her to carry her forward.
  • Loved that video. Hey, we don't know—maybe she got the job! :-)
  • Ken, thank you for all you shared. Also, that was a really sweet video. I like how she faced material loss as a result of her giving, and her gain was just a sense of buoyancy within her in the face of that loss.

    This whole thing has been sticking in my mind too, and I'm still trying to work with it. One thing I realized is that the "I am end and you are means" thing is built in at a very basic level. If you think about the subject/object dichotomy, that already contains it. It says that I am the subject here--I am what this is about. You are just an object.

    So we're trying to reverse something that is built into us being subjects that are surrounded by people we are not inside of, people that therefore seem like objects. But on the other hand, when you reverse something that fundamental, the reversal must necessarily affect everything.
  • Thanks Robert! I remember in my mid-twenties I decided that everyone I encountered deserved my respect rather than having to earn it. I made a conscious effort during this time to enact it and I remember feeling rewarded at my efforts. In retrospect, I was attempting the Golden Rule although I don't think I made the connection with the actual saying at the time.

    Similar to you, I never really considered the Golden Rule as something other than a saying that had a nice and right sentiment--perhaps on par with "love conquers all" or "beauty is only skin deep". They sure sound right but they don't seem to have much impact in the "real world". I think my difficulty with seeing its profundity is that the prevailing wisdom I operate from on a daily basis is myself as an end. This is a largely unquestioned belief and habitual mode, which allows those who meet my needs more consideration and those who don't, perhaps a nod.

    Since your post, I have been trying to consider this saying more and more in my daily interactions to break me out of this habitual mindset. Yet, I am sensing the power contained in this saying in a way I haven't really considered before. I am also seeing how much I want to squirm out of it, too. What I do find when I attempt seeing others as an end, rather than a means, is that I do make an extra effort in the way of being present and being courteous to their needs. That in itself is a big gain.

    I will continue to work with this saying as I am beginning to recognize it as a key to opening a golden door to a storehouse of treasure, found in not taking care of number one but giving to another. Wow!

    (Note: I found this short video advertisement made by the Hallmark Channel I saw earlier tonight that illustrates the Golden Rule perfectly):
  • Thank you for this, Robert. I'm particularly struck by your last two paragraphs. As you know, Patricia and I (especially Patricia) are involved in the hot-button topic of immigration. It's an intensely debated topic, especially these days, and on the level of law and policy it's frankly a complicated issue.

    But I can't help but think: What answers to this issue might come to us if we really and truly and deeply believed, "Everyone involved in this issue is an end in herself, every bit as much as I am. And I will treat her that way"? I don't know what specific answers would come, and I imagine many different answers are possible. But that change in mindset would change everything. Thanks again!
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