Charter For Compassion

Photo Credit, Annie Spratt

Do you remember when you first learned about The Golden Rule?

I do.

I was in elementary school. I was in church. I was in Sunday school. I was at home. I was at the dinner table with my grandmother. I was constantly reminded about the importance of the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule, or law of reciprocity, is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself. It is a maxim of altruism seen in many human religions and human cultures.”

During those times of constantly being reminded, I have to admit the information went in one ear and out the other. It just didn’t seem as important as it was made out to be.

Now decades later, as I look at the world through more experienced and humble eyes, I see that the reminder of such a rule could not have come at a better time.

Initiated by Karen Armstrong, founder of The Charter for Compassion, which draws upon the spirit of the Golden Rule by identifying shared moral priorities across religious traditions to foster global understanding.

Accompanied by the United Religions Initiative (URI), an international, grassroots, interfaith bridge-building organization modeled after the United Nations, Armstrong hopes to remind every one of us the following:

“We have to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there.”

The idea is to stop and ask ourselves how might our lives differ if the Golden Rule was carried out on a moment-to-moment and day-by-day basis, not just by some of us, but instead by all of us?

What would the daily interactions actually look like if people with whom we reside in the same community began to treat each other like … they would like to be treated?

What if individuals we encounter at the market, share space with at work, push children on the swings with at the park, seek the same parking space in the parking lot or find in our faith groups and families set aside the lingering fear of strangers, or the fear of someone who doesn’t look like them and without hesitation began to exemplify the Golden Rule?

What if you began to treat the person right in front of you like … you would like to be treated?

Before you answer the questions, let me give you a more specific example of how the Golden Rule was applied by John F. Kennedy.

“President Kennedy in 1963 appealed to the Golden Rule in an anti-segregation speech at the time of the first black enrollment at the University of Alabama. He asked whites to consider what it would be like to be treated as second-class citizens because of skin color.”

“Whites were to imagine themselves being black — and being told that they couldn’t vote, or go to the best public schools, or eat at most public restaurants, or sit in the front of the bus. Would whites be content to be treated that way? He was sure that they wouldn’t — and yet this is how they treated others. He said the “heart of the question is … whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.””

“Considered to be the most consistent moral teaching throughout history, the Golden Rule can be found in many religions, ethical systems, indigenous cultures and secular philosophies,” and simply put, states:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Although usually associated with Christianity, the concept and moral code of the Golden Rule have been recognized by various faiths demonstrating that despite the “differences” that remain in the detail, there is a code of behavior in which many have found a commonality upon which we all can agree:

  • Commonsensism: A version of the Golden Rule put into modern, non-religious terms that some people live by is, “Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.”
  • Buddhism: 560 BC, from the Udanavarga 5:18 — “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.”
  • Judaism: 1300 BC, from the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18 — “Thou shalt Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
  • Hinduism: 3200 BC, from the Hitopadesa — “One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.”
  • Zoroastrianism: 600 BC, from the Shast-na-shayast 13:29 — “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others.”
  • Confucianism: 557 BC, from the Analects 15:23 — “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”
  • Christianity: 30 AD, from the King James Version Matthew 7:12 — “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

From the beginnings of childhood we learned simple, yet profound lessons of how to treat each other. We were reminded to be nice, not take things from other children, not to hit one another, to share and to treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Somewhere along the way these profound truths quietly diminished, and taking care of each other seemed to lose importance.

So as we revisit what is timeless, necessary, universal and powerful, let us first understand, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and from that place, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”