The Golden Rule Dilemma

The Golden Rule Dilemma April 5, 2018

I am a big proponent of the Golden Rule. “Treat others as you want to be treated” is a sentiment that is found in some form in all religions. Jesus went further that most when he usurped all other commandments and told his followers to love God and love their neighbors as they would themselves—a tall order indeed.

The dilemma becomes apparent when we take a step back and ask what needs to happen before we can follow the Golden Rule and it can be boiled down to a single question: Do we love ourselves enough to want to be treated well and are we willing to extend that care to others?

Not Always the Case

I have not always been a model citizen. In all honesty, I have gone through periods in my life where I earned the pun on my name (Hi, I’m Gudjon, used to be Bad-John). But in hindsight, I can safely say that when I hurt other people, it usually went hand in hand with low self-esteem.

For example, I went through several years as a young adult when I was being bullied. During that time, I went out of my way to make sure others felt as miserable as I did. Later on, I was in relationships where someone loved me but I felt that I wasn’t worthy of love and sabotaged the relationships. Even on my best days I can have moments where I look in the mirror and feel less than and that affects my interactions with others.

From what I have seen and heard during my forty-five years on this Earth, I am not alone.

It seems that most (if not all) of us go through periods where we do not love ourselves and feel that we should not be treated well. That gives some of us (not all) internal permission to treat others badly (my nine-year old daughter said wisely this morning that she tries to keep it to herself when she is feeling bad and not lash out at others to make them feel bad).

Building a Strong Foundation

The foundation for the Golden Rule is self-care and self-love. We must want to be treated well in order to treat others well. We must love ourselves (not in a selfish way, but altruistically) so that we can extend that love and include others in it.

There are many ways to get there. People can use a variety of self-care techniques to make themselves feel better, rely on God’s love to provide them with an inner wellspring of love, look for the light in themselves and see it reflected in others, or something completely different. The method isn’t as important the destination. If a person has the capacity to treat others well and extend love beyond the boundaries of their own being, then who are we to judge how they got there.

Start From the Beginning

I believe in the Golden Rule. My organization is a signatory to the Charter for Compassion and I use the rule to improve my relationships every day. I am not disparaging the rule by pointing out this dilemma. All I am saying is that we have to start from the beginning. The Golden Rule must spring into action from the inside out.

It’s a Catch-22 for those of us who want to follow the rule. In our exuberant attempts to be good, we tend to focus so much on others that we forget about ourselves. We forget that we are the fountains from which benevolent actions must flow.

For the Golden Rule to spread, we must consistently use our preferred methods to replenish the spring within so the fountain will keep flowing without restrictions. And on the days when we feel depleted and can’t do that, let’s hope that enough people around us have remembered to fill their cups of love and have some left to share.

Happy Golden Rule Day!

Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister, Author, and Speaker
Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative

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Pictures: CC0 License

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