Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Golden Rule

I used to think that the Golden Rule was peculiar to the Bible. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt. 7:12).

I came across a form of that rule in the Old Testament too: "Do to no one what you yourself hate" (Tobit 4:2).

There is also the story in Jewish literature about a man who came to Hillel, who lived about a century before Jesus, and challenged the holy man to teach him the whole of Torah while standing on one foot.

Hillel responded, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of Torah and the rest is but commentary. Go and learn it."

Even earlier (about 500 years before Jesus) the Chinese social philosopher known as Confucius had taught, "Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself."

And earlier still forms of the Golden Rule can be found among the ancient Greeks. Pittacus of Myteline, born about 640 BC, is credited with the saying: "Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him."

And Thales of Miletus (born about 624 BC, and thought by some to be the first philosopher of Greek wisdom) said, "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing."

There were versions of this so-called rule of reciprocity in ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt as well. The truth of the Golden Rule is apparent to thoughtful human nature.

Closer to our time a strange little man named Peter Maurin formulated still another version.

It was Maurin who taught and encouraged Dorothy Day to found the Catholic Worker newspaper to be an advocate for social justice and to establish Catholic Worker Houses to care for the homeless and broken members of society.

Day and Maurin met in 1932. In her biography of him, Day wrote, "Peter never tired of teaching, and many were the meetings held in the store, which was the first office of the Catholic Worker. Night after night, those first years, the meetings went on, from eight to ten, often far later."

In one of his lessons, Maurin insisted that he wished to be "what he wanted the other fellow to be."

That simple thought has profound ramifications.

That I should be what I want others to be would prompt more patience when I am driving, more kindness when meeting new people, more generosity to those in need.

Jesus' teaching that I should do to others as I want them to do to me is further clarified when I take on the persona of people around me.

Atticus Finch taught his daughter in To Kill A Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view --until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Maurin's advice is another way of expressing that law of reciprocity, that so-called Golden Rule.

It struck me hard when I read his version. I have a lot of work to do.

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