Saturday, January 7, 2017

How to Do Unto Others

"Do unto others as you would have other do unto you" is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, and variations are found all over the world, from different time periods and belief systems. No one has to believe in any specific religion to realize the value of this idea as a model for how people treat one another, but, since we live in a country where the majority of people profess to be Christians, it certainly behooves Christians to take this seriously. These are the words of their God, in a book many of them believe to be inerrant and to be followed literally: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

Disclaimer: Nothing I'm about to say is meant to shame anybody or make anybody feel bad. The whole point of the Golden Rule, as it's known, is that its message is in conflict with what our instinct tells us. As human beings, we are driven to survive, to care about ourselves, our families, and the communities with which we have things in common, and to put those things first. When our self-interests clash, the Golden Rule is a way to separate ourselves from our understandable selfishness, see the bigger picture, and find a more cooperative way. We all need help with this. I certainly do!

While I've historically preferred not to talk about this stuff, because it makes me feel smug and self-righteous, I think I need to get over that and start sharing my helpful hints.

First off, practicing the Golden Rule isn't going to be easy or comfortable at first, but it's not supposed to be. Secondly, in using the Golden Rule, we can never invoke anything like Majority Rule, because that's completely irrelevant. Doing unto others has nothing to do with the numbers involved, and when it's a majority (of anything) vs. a minority (of anything), that's a time it's especially important to keep in mind. And third, some situations do involve more imaginative re-framing of situations, but a lot of them are surprisingly simple, easily resolving themselves. So here goes.

Early in my life, I realized that by practicing simple logical switches, I was able to see  when the Golden Rule is in play, and take a point of view accordingly. Any time an issue, an opinion, or a strong emotional reaction involves any kind of group identity (which can be anything: men as a group, women as a group, race, religion, nationality, sexual preference, sci-fi nerds, folk music fans), it's time to bring in the Golden Rule flip. I take out the identifier for the group in question and replace it with something different. If the key part of the equation is something I personally relate to, I replace that with something I don't. If the key part is something I don't personally relate to, I replace it with something I do. The object is to take a summarizing statement and replace the "other" with a "me," or the "me" with an "other."

Let's start with a super-easy example. Should gay couples be allowed to get married? You can make all the arguments in the world you want, but when you look at it through the Golden Rule, all it takes is a flip: should straight couples be allowed to get married? Well, most people immediately think "yes" to the second. So it's yes to the first! And we're done.You may not like the answer, but it's what doing unto others as we would have others do unto us tells us.

Something else that's topical and controversial: Should Muslims be banned as a group from entering the country, because some of them commit crimes? When a question like this arises, I run it through the Golden Rule flip. I'm not a Muslim; I was raised a Christian and am in a predominantly Christian environment, so I just replace one word. Should Christians be banned as a group from entering the country, because some of them commit crimes? That sounds really different, doesn't it? In this case, Muslims are the others we need to do unto as we would have done unto us, as Christians. If we don't want Christians treated that way, we can't treat Muslims that way. Easy-peasy.

You may have noticed that this also exposes when people are not objectively looking at rights (like "freedom of religion" in general), but are actually expecting special treatment, for a certain group. It's equally a tool to "check your privilege," as they say. These are lucky side effects, and doing those things (looking more objectively at rights for different kinds of people) all tie back to the source, of doing unto others.

I also assume that some people are fuming about my wildly liberal examples, but I'm not doing these flips because I'm a liberal. It's the other way around. I became a liberal largely because I started flipping things this way. Once you start looking through the lens of the Golden Rule, it's a lot easier to see when you're in the wrong, when you really are expecting special treatment over other people, and when you are bigoted in some way toward different groups. That experience may suck, especially in the beginning, but don't blame me, blame Jesus.