Do Unto Others

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that growing up. Commonly referred to as the Golden Rule, it appears in the Bible in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but variations were present in ancient texts as early as 2040 BC. Sometimes it is used as a question, as in, “How would you like it if they did that to you?” The rule is based on empathy and compassion for other people, which is a really fantastic idea.

The problem is, we often use the Golden Rule as a limiter on what we are willing to do for (or willing to refrain from doing to) others. I have done this myself. I hear myself in my head say, “I would be alright with that,” or, “I don’t care if no one does (fill in the blank) for me.” The common thread here is “I” and “me.”

The philosophy behind the Golden Rule is not an egalitarian equality. It is not that we do the same things to or for everyone, with those things being what we would wish for ourselves. Rather it is a call to love everyone enough to seek their good and improvement as much as (or even more than) we seek our own.

The Golden Rule is the antithesis of “looking out for #1.” This is most accentuated by leadership or any time there is an imbalance of power. If those with power choose to take care of themselves without regard for others, it leaves people who have less power no choice but to do whatever they must to secure themselves.

Eventually, this destroys any cooperative efforts and spirals into a kind of functional anarchy. Conversely, if everyone makes it their mission to care for and elevate everyone around them, it frees each person to operate with open hands, no longer needing to grab for themselves.

Remember when I said the Golden Rule was based on empathy? Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. One of the main barriers to empathy is cognitive bias. These biases make it difficult to see things from someone else’s perspective.

We can overcome our biases and become more empathetic with a few, fairly simple practices: listening, imagining, and engaging.

People often say you should listen to understand instead of to respond. It is better to listen to be changed. If you listen (and ask questions) to learn enough about a person to be affected by them, you will find yourself becoming more empathetic with them.

With the understanding you gain from active listening, you can then imagine yourself in the other person’s situation. It is only from this new perspective that you can begin to know in what ways you might be able to make a difference for them.

Finally, we must engage. Understanding and good intentions are not enough, we must act. “Let me know if you need anything,” means very little to a person in need. “I would like to watch your kids for you one afternoon so you can take a break to do something for yourself. Is next Thursday good?” is tangible and helpful.

The Golden Rule calls us to a level of involvement in each other’s lives that has the potential to elevate everyone. This demonstrates a true care and value for others that fosters a healthy and growth-oriented community. Doing unto others what they need, rather than what we might want, is the Bison Way.