Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Do Unto Others

Why is it that the simplest and most natural questions always seem to be the ones with the most complex answers —or no answers at all?

I’ve often wondered why the Golden Rule is so widely praised but so seldom practiced. It’s like that old saw: “What is there about ‘NO’ that you don’t understand?” What is there about “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” that makes it such a difficult concept for so many people to grasp? Is there some sort of species-wide dyslexia which forces so many to read that simple sentence as: “Do unto others as you would have done unto them”?

It’s not a matter of religious belief: agnostics, atheists, and members of all religions give lip service to it. I sincerely believe and have always felt that within those ten simple words lie the solution to just about every moral issue facing mankind.

Given that on the “animal, vegetable, mineral” chart, human beings genetically fall into the “animal” category, and as such are subject to tens of thousands of years of behavior similar to any other animal, it’s not easy to quell these instincts. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Survival of the fittest. One would assume that after about five thousand years of struggle toward civilization, our more advanced brains might have put us further ahead of jungle predators than we seem to have come. We are civilized in theory, yet far too often not in practice.

We still strongly demonstrate all the positive—and negative—attributes of the herd instinct. We too often blindly follow whomever bellows loudest simply because it is much easier, and often safer, to be a follower, even when the leader is totally wrong. (The saying “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is amply demonstrated by looking no further than the heads of our own government.)

In our daily lives, as individuals, we struggle with the same genetic imperatives; someone crosses us in some way, and our knee-jerk reaction is to lash out in some form. We respond to real or perceived rudeness with rudeness. We are so concerned with our own agendas that we are often totally unaware of the reactions our actions trigger.

I live in a large apartment building and, especially in the elevators, always try to acknowledge my fellow riders. But sometimes I don’t for one reason or another, or sometimes when I say “hello” I will be greeted with stony silence. And just as there may be good reason for my lapse, I have to acknowledge that there may be a very good reason for their lack of response—they didn’t hear me, they were preoccupied, they were having a bad day. In any case, I have no excuse for any negative reaction on my part. So I really must try harder to practice what I preach and treat everyone the way I would like to be treated, even if they do not respond in kind. Turning the other cheek isn’t always easy in every instance, but there are so very many instances when it really doesn’t take that much effort. And there is a certain comfort and even an odd ego stroking in knowing one has behaved better than someone else. Almost makes me feel a little…well, superior. Survival of the fittest, you know.

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1 comment:

jean said...

I like the way you think, Dorien. And yes, if everyone would live by this one simple principle, myself included, we would all be so much better off. Thanks for the reminder!