Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and even Zoroastrian faiths all contain the principle known as “The Golden Rule” in their scripture. Treating others in the ways you’re willing to be treated is thoughtfulness on a basic level. When applied correctly, it results in what we call respect. The Bahá’í Faith says, “And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 30). Hindu faith admonishes, “This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain” (The Mahabharata).
Judaism says, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (The Talmud). Zoroastrians agree: “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others” (Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29). Buddhist texts say, “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself” (Udana-Varga).
Muslim’s Hadith says, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” And the Bible references it multiple places: “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” (Matthew 7:12, KJV); “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31, KJV); and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).
President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to consider the golden rule when he delivered an anti-segregation speech during the time of the first black enrollment at the University of Alabama in 1963. The President’s involvement would ultimately lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. On national television, he challenged white people to consider what it must have been like to be treated as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin. To imagine themselves as being black—and in turn, not being able to vote, go to the good schools, eat at public restaurants, and more. Obviously that wouldn’t sit well with them, so why should they tolerate those restrictions placed on other Americans?
Three years later, something as insignificant as a pop song captured the hearts of Americans of that era and beyond. Aretha Franklin’s ode to the golden rule (as penned by Otis Redding) was not only a number one hit in 1967; it has been named number four on “The 365 Songs of the Century” list according to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. More than a catchy melody and danceable beat, the message “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” has connected with listeners across the decades.
John Carlin, a writer for the New Statesman, once asked Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela’s best friend, days before his 80th birthday if he could sum up what it was he had been fighting for during his 60 years or so of "struggle" in South Africa. "Ordinary respect," Sisulu said. "That is all. Ordinary respect." Sisulu understood that human respect for one another is enough to thwart and resolve conflict among people, nations and the world.
Similarly, Mandela treated his foremost enemy with the same respect he wished he would be treated with. Mandela had every reason to hate General Constand Viljoen, chief of the South African Defence Force, who planned the violent overthrow of the South African government, whose army began its chemical and biological warfare program, and who, after Mandela’s release from jail in 1990, became the leader of the far-right umbrella organization the Afrikaner Freedom Front. But Mandela persuaded Viljoen to take part in the historic elections of 1994 and never failed to show him common courtesy and respect at each meeting they had.
It’s been said Mandela’s role in the South African negotiations serve as an example to the world: a world that’s failing in efforts to reach peace in the Middle East, Northern Ireland and around the world. Mandela proved that respect person-to-person is the first step in attainable peace. An ABC news poll confirms this; a whopping 85 percent of those surveyed said the world would be a better place if people just said “please” and “thank you” more often.
The golden rule, when applied fairly to any given situation, exposes hypocrisy and promotes peace. It’s putting love into action. The principle requires knowledge and imagination: The person must realize the effects his actions have on others and imagine what they must feel like. The effects of the principle cross cultural, religious and language barriers and reigns supreme at resolving conflict—on a personal and global level.
Wanna change the world? Start with living by the elementary rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. It’s that simple.
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