The Golden Rule

A knot formed in my stomach and slowly made its way up to my throat. You’d never have known by my calm expression, but a wave of emotions was crashing inside my brain. It’s a funny thing, to have something so minor, so insignificant, have a profound effect on you. I had just been slighted. The very root of the word itself, slight, refers to something very small, barely anything at all. I should have just brushed it off, let it roll off my back. But this slight was a pesky, stubborn nag. It wanted to make its bed in my brain, hole up in there until I spent time with it, talked with it, coaxed it out with sweet talk.

At first, I felt anger, which is unsurprising — I’m a stereotypical redhead and anger is the first emotion I exhibit in 75% of uncomfortable or confrontational situations. The anger led to a desire to seek small scale “revenge,” some way of letting the slighter know, “Ha, see! Aren’t you sorry you were mean to me, now? Don’t you wish you could take it back? Well, too bad!” I quickly realized this would be neither satisfying nor productive. Anger was still dominating, but a faint whimper began to emerge. A pitiful little voice that could barely squeak out a word. It was hurt. I was hurt. I felt, well, shitty is the best way to describe it. The whiny voice asked, “But why? Why did you treat me like that? What did I ever do to deserve it?” The part of me that craves approval and adoration was slowly drowning out the anger. I sat, stared blankly at my keyboard, and wondered what to do next. Another wave of anger crashed into the self-pity, knocking it over for allowing such a silly and insignificant and slight thing to upset me.

Then, resolve. Resolve is not an emotion, but I felt a strong urge to rise above, to make the best of it, to work with what I’ve got and make some tangy lemonade. I thought about confronting the slighter, but I thought that might make me feel worse. I thought about shutting them out — putting an invisible wall between us, secretly shunning them from my life outside of mandatory interaction. That would be hard to maintain and also didn’t seem like it would make me feel better — especially over the long term.

And then it appeared, it all of its moral and ethical glory, glimmering: the Golden Rule.

Of course! The Golden Rule, now that it had occurred to me, seemed obvious. Internally, I performed a monologue: Going forward I will be more mindful of the people around me, especially those who I may not think have something of “value” to offer me. I will remember how it felt to be slighted, to feel small and insignificant and angry and hurt, and I will resolve to not be the person who makes them feel this way. This was the one option of all I had considered that made me feel better about the situation. And it seems obvious, except that it wasn’t. My resolution also reminded me of a quote I’ve heard repeated by kind and wise humans over the years:

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” — Malcolm S. Forbes

I believe wholeheartedly in the Golden Rule. I half-heartedly practice it, though. In situations of this minute scale, it’s so easy to toss out the golden rule book and replace it with self-pity, vengeance or bitterness, each building upon the other over time as the slights pile-up. Gut instinct tells us to meet the slighter’s expectations of us, to get cut down and remain there, stewing in anger. I chose to follow the Golden Rule, and instead of stew, this essay is a cool glass of tangy lemonade.

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