“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
We all know the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s practically hard-wired into our brains.
Yet even though we know the golden rule so well, we often have a harder time putting it into practice. Too often, we prefer one of the golden rule’s cheap substitutes, such as…
1. The Golden Reciprocity Rule.
“Do unto others what has been done unto you.”
Had a rough life? Make it rough for others. Has life given you lemons? Give lemons to everyone else.
With this rule, you’re not concerned about your neighbors. You’re focused on your own sufferings, and you want to make sure others experience them as severely as you have.
2. The Golden Get-What-You-Deserve Rule.
“Do unto others what they deserve.”
Is he poor because he’s made terrible life choices? He’s getting what he deserves. Is she pregnant because she was sleeping around? Well that’s what happens. Does he have aids? Well, serves him right for living that lifestyle.
With this rule, you show compassion only upon those who “deserve” it. People who have made choices you disagree with don’t receive your compassion; they receive your scorn.
3. The Golden Self-Interest Rule.
“Do unto others if they can do good unto you.”
Is she rich, powerful or influential? Be as cordial as you can be. Is he poor, powerless or merely a face in the crowd? Don’t waste your time.
With this rule, you’re only interesting in helping others who can help you back. You don’t really care about them; you care about how they can benefit you.
4. The Golden Sentimentality Rule.
“Do unto others if their life story evokes compassion.”
Is this cute, soft-skinned infant sick? Let’s pour all our resources together to help her. But if the immigrant with dark, sun-baked skin and dirt under his fingernails is sick? Well, we’ll “pray” for him.
With this rule, our compassion for others is not founded on someone’s objective, God-given worth, but on our subjective, emotional response.
In Matthew 7, Jesus deconstructs these fools-golden rules. Don’t do what’s been done to you. Don’t give people what you think they deserve. Don’t do good only if it benefits you. And don’t do good simply because they’re cute.
Do good unto the kind people and the jerks. Do good unto people who have made wise decisions and those who have wrecked their lives. Do good unto people when it helps you (and even when it hurts you). Do good unto people you feel strongly for and those you don’t.
Do unto others — anyone — as you would have them do unto you.
Are you living by the golden rule — or by one if its cheap counterfeits?
Image Credit: Andrzej Barabasz, Wikimedia Commons