When the Golden Rule Fails

When the Golden Rule Fails June 15, 2015

Recently, a friend of mine in their wheelchair had a walking person push past them in order to use the accessible stall. My friend showed patience and civility, but still ended up having to wait for the person to finish because that was the only stall they could use. The person who pushed past was probably not a bad person. They probably recycle and give to charity. They can probably recite the contents of Luke 6:31 without skipping a beat. If I just start the line, you’ll know how to finish it. “Do unto to others, what you would have them do unto you. They probably ran into a little tangle.

The Golden Rule asks us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Sometimes, this fails. Why? What can we do?
The Golden Rule asks us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Sometimes, this fails. Why? What can we do?

What we have called the Golden Rule asks people to think of how they would want to be treated were they in the situation they are considering. A problem arises when the person being considered is having an experience of disability or illness. Sometimes the reaction of fear or revulsion gets in the way so that the real experience of the person with a disability is hidden by the reactions of others. The Golden Rule fails when the fear or distaste we have for another person’s experience keeps us from actually considering what their experience is like. This is something we can address in spiritual community. The usual, everyday perception of disability as something fearful and revolting is something we can interrupt with honest thinking and speaking.

bell hooks put it this way, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”

You cannot eradicate disability simply by trying harder. No one is asking you to do that as a spiritual community or a church. Rather, the inner work that you can do is to notice every time that you associate pity, sorrow, or distaste with a person with a disability. You will have to pay close attention. It may register simply as a shiver down your spine. Notice again if you assign some meaning of heroism or inspiration when people with disabilities show up to participate in community. This is where they belong; a higher degree of challenge to get here or participate doesn’t actually make it heroic.

If fear or revulsion are getting in your way, notice them and name them. Don’t allow them to reshape your Golden Rule. Connect with people with disabilities and allow how they describe themselves and their needs to inform your understanding of what the Golden Rule would be in their case. You can, by doing this work, affirm the identities of those around you and strengthen Beloved Community.


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