I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of "Lost" in the back fields today. Clara bolted along the tree line in full hunt chase. Then she slowed, sniffed around, and bolted off in a new direction. Then Guster joined the hunt, and they even caught Kate's attention for a while.
Then in the distance there was a high pitched squeaking, and tree branches twitched and swayed wildly near the fence that is buried in the trees (that was the weirdest "Lost" moment). Finally I got a glimpse of the source of the commotion through the trees - not an eerie smoke monster, but a white tailed deer, sprinting around the safe side of the dog boundary. She must have gotten caught briefly in the fence.
I have been pondering the golden rule ever since taking part in a lively debate about its value. This encounter between animals is one example of the difficulties of the golden rule.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I would have others allow me the freedom to remain uneaten - this argues in favor of protecting the deer. I would also have others allow me the freedom to obtain nourishment to feed myself - this argues in favor of letting the dogs get the deer.
Well, these are dumb beasts, you may be saying. But in the human field it isn't any easier. My mother, who likes peace and quiet and harmonic surroundings, tried to put an end to a rather heated morality debate at the dining room table (it was about gay marriage, I believe). She said it's very simple. It all boils down to the golden rule.
Well, she succeeded in sidetracking us off the gay marriage question, but a deconstruction of the golden rule ensued and she figuratively threw up her hands. "The golden rule was entirely useless in my marriage," said one party. Treating his wife as he would wish to be treated did not work. Some may wish to be left alone; others may wish to receive supportive attention. If those two try to apply the golden rule they'll drive each other crazy.
My mother wished people would stop arguing and be quiet. The arguers relished the debate, and would have liked her to join in. So is the true meaning of the golden rule that we should treat others the way that THEY would wish that we treat them?
Let's look at the dogs again. Clara and Guster wish I would let them over the line to chase the deer. Not morally right, for me, since I want to protect the deer from them, them from cars, and myself from censure for letting my dogs run amuck.
Kate would have me throw sticks for her all day. I would have her chill out and enjoy a simple walk now and again.
If your alcoholic friend wants you to buy her a beer, or a murderer wants you help him escape, following the "do as they would have you do" rule would not be morally ideal.
This is why I have never understood how people can talk about a literal interpretation of scripture. Leviticus 19:18 says "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 7:12 says "whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them." Even between these two versions of the golden rule there is a difference. One talks about attitude - loving. The other talks about actions.
You can read about some of the history and philosophical debates on the golden rule on Wikipedia, and there is a lot more out there as well. It is a sound fundamental principle: reciprocal treatment between humans as a moral code. But as is so often the case, putting it into practice is complicated. Do you always do what is best for the individual, or for a community? What about when helping one means hurting another? How do you decide?
Look - these pears were all treated the same way on the same branch.
There is no single rule that will lead to the thriving of all.
In my book, we need to learn how to listen to our own conscience and not be bound by scripture of any kind - but that is predicated on the assumption that one has developed a moral conscience. Some may lack the ability to discern right and wrong, innately or through traumatic experience, and they cannot be trusted.
I would have everyone respect my conscience and allow me the freedom to live by it, and I would offer them the same. Perhaps that's my version of the golden rule. At least for today.