The Problem With The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a good rule for things like murder, rape, theft, big things like that. But what about how people relate to each other in smaller ways?

Are you familiar with Chapman’s Five Love Languages? (5LoveLanguages) His premise is that there are five ways people tend to relate, and that we all have preferences among these. They are: Words of Affirmation; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; Quality Time; Physical Touch.

When someone whose main love language is receiving gifts falls in love with someone whose main love language is acts of service, they can have trouble. She showers him with gifts, which he doesn’t care about, because she is doing unto him what she wants him to do unto her. He takes out the garbage because he loves her, which she doesn’t see as anything special since it has to be taken out anyway. Until they are aware of the language the other one is speaking, doing unto others is just annoying them. Why are you spending money on gifts I don’t need? Why are you fixing my dishwasher when we could be snuggling?

As a general rule, I like the Wiccan motto the best: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Perhaps because I’m Jewish and there are rules about everything – how to eat, when to wash your hands, what to say, how to pray, etc. – I like the simplicity of this. If studying Torah is what I want to do, great, and if it’s not, then as long as I’m not hurting anyone by not studying it, I’m free to go dance, or make things, or whatever makes me happy.

Do no harm is actually fairly difficult to manage. It makes me see things in a different perspective. Instead of “how would I like to be treated in this situation” I ask “will this hurt anyone?” It can become a complex question. Will it hurt them physically? Will it hurt their feelings? If I talk about it first, will it hurt their feelings less? Will it hurt their income if I say bad things about their business? Will it hurt the earth if I throw away plastic bottles instead of recycling them? It makes me aware of the consequences of my actions, and that even actions that I don’t intend to be hurtful can be.

In this week before a new year comes around again, it’s a good time to think about what motto we will use for ourselves in the coming year. Will you treat people the way you want to be treated? Even if it’s not what they want? Or is the idea of ‘do no harm’ what the ‘do unto others’ people actually mean? For myself, I’m going to attempt to do no harm, and also attempt to figure out what it is I want. The ‘do what you will’ part isn’t always easy, either.

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