Monday, November 05, 2012

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”?

Though it is a precept of the Judeo-Christian bible, it’s not a matter of religious belief; it is universally applicable to agnostics and atheists as well. The fact is that within those ten simple words lie the solution to just about every moral issue facing mankind. Unfortunately, acknowledging it in theory while ignoring it in practice renders it all but meaningless.

The problem lies, I think, in the simple fact that on the “animal/vegetable/mineral” chart, human beings are undeniably animals, despite our arrogant assumption of superiority over all other living creatures. We are nonetheless the product of tens of thousands of years of predatory animal behavior, and it’s not easy to quell the most base of our animal instincts. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Survival of the fittest. One might assume that after more than five thousand years of struggle toward civilization, our more advanced brains might have put us further ahead of other predators than we seem to have come. We are civilized in theory, yet far too often not in practice.

In our daily lives, as individuals, we struggle with the same genetically imposed imperatives as our earliest ancestors; if someone crosses us in some way, our knee-jerk reaction is to defend ourselves. Even in matters which do not directly affect our physical wellbeing, we far too often respond to real or perceived rudeness with rudeness. 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. But, too often, I have one.

Though as humans we have carefully devised the tools of language and logic, when we feel challenged, we too often simply ignore them in favor our basic, animalistic responses/reactions.—a form of the eternal, basic animal “fight or flight” response. The conflict between how we, as civilized people, feel we should respond and how we do respond are, again far too often, two very different things.

"Do Unto Others" is one of the guidelines we have established or ourselves. It is admirable and noble and definitely a goal for which we should aspire. But it can only be achieved by somehow overcoming our animal-based primary imperative: survival of the fittest.

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.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I make an effort to say 'hello' to people and then sometimes receive the panicked "Oh, man...he spoke to me!" look. So, naturally, when I get tired of that, I don't say anything...which is when they look up at me and say 'hello' and I give them the "Oh, man...he spoke to me!" look.

Ah, insanity.