The Modern Golden Rule

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But First, Some History

For over two centuries, the Golden rule has been found in some form in nearly every religion, culture, and ethical tradition around the world. It has been explained from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy, sociology, human evolution, and economics.

The Golden Rule, as seen through many different eyes:

  • Socrates: “Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others.”
  • Aristotle: “We should behave toward friends as we would wish friends to behave toward us.”
  • African Proverb: “One going to take a pointed stick to a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”
  • Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
  • Christianity: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”
  • Hinduism: “One should not behave towards others in a way that you would not have them do unto you.”
  • Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”
  • Judaism: “… thou shall love they neighbor as thyself.”
  • Native American: “Respect for all life is the foundation.”
  • Sikhism: “As thou deemest thyself, so deem others.”
  • Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”

The Golden Rule today:

  • Treat others as you would want to be treated.
  • Imagine how others want to be treated, and follow through by treating them that way.
  • “How would you feel if…?” is a great way for children to understand the Golden Rule and learn to consider others’ feelings.

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Positive and Negative Golden Rules

There are positive and negative forms of the Golden Rule, often meaning something very different. For example, when you do no harm you may not be offering goodwill or helping someone who is needing help. It could be interpreted as justifying inaction. In today’s societies, with divergent cultures living together, it is important to go beyond positive or negative, and treat others as you would wish to be treated while imagining how the other person may want to be treated, and then act accordingly.

“Thus it is no small matter which habits are instilled in us in early childhood, on the contrary, this makes a considerable difference, or rather all the difference.” – Aristotle

The Golden Rule Applied

Can anyone truly and consistently be kind to others if they are not kind to themselves? It has been said, “to the extent we love ourselves, we can love others,” that we cannot give away what we do not already possess. Perhaps this Golden Rule looks like, “Be kind to yourself, as you would be kind to others.”

The Reciprocity Rule

The Law of Reciprocity is a factor of human behavior across all cultures that states when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. In other words, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. But what if someone is mean to you, will you in turn be mean to them? Since there is also a positive and negative side to reciprocity, by combining the Golden Rule with the Reciprocity Rule, the resulting messages of compassion, empathy, and kindness are powerful. Modeling and teaching this to children could end bullying and bring peace to the school, the community, and beyond.

The Reciprocity-Golden Rule

Currently much of North America’s "anti-bullying" work involves finding the bully and punishing them. Often it is the children who bully that need compassion and kindness the most, to know that someone cares. What would happen if all of the adults model the Reciprocity-Golden Rule? What if we were nice to people even when they are being mean? It is very difficult for anyone to continue to be mean if we consistently respond with kindness. Over time if we are repeatedly respectful, kind, and compassionate, it can influence change. With the ripple effect, each person that changes their behavior, will affect an immeasurable number of others. When we combine the Reciprocity Rule with the Golden Rule, each and every one of us has the power to transform lives.

Will you try?

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‘Tis the Golden Rule Challenge

We want to encourage more conversations and more ripples of kindness. We invite you to share in celebrating the season and post a photo or video of an action showing the Golden Rule on Facebook with the tag #GoldenRuleChallenge. Each post will be entered in a random draw for a $50 Amazon Gift Card. See for details. We wish you the kindest season of all.

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Written by Teresa Lynne, Program Coordinator, United Against Bullying
Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Unsplash