“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life”. Edwin Markham
Directives to love are central to the world’s most widespread religions. The greatest commandment in Christianity is a love directive. The greatest commandments are written in the following scriptures.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 36-40)
The greatest commandment as quoted by Jesus in this new testament scripture, originates from Jewish law.
34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
The Jewish Talmud tells of Rabbi Hillel who lived around the time of Jesus. A pagan came to Rabbi Hillel saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied to the pagan, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.” (Talmud Shabbat 31a).
This notion of “love your neighbor as yourself” …or as expressed in the negative “what is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow man” has come to be known as the “Golden Rule”. The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures. The “Golden Rule” or similar notions appears in the Abrahamic Faiths Judaism, Christianity, Islam and many others.
Variations of the “Golden Rule” can also be found in Ancient Chinese Religions such as Mohism, Taoism, and Confucianism. In Hinduism it is stated, “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.” It was also taught in Buddhism during the time of Gautama. “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Possibly the earliest documented affirmation of the “Golden Rule” is in a story about the ancient Egyptian Goddess Ma’at (The Eloquent Peasant). Likewise, a papyrus from the Late Egyptian Period reads, “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” Human religions and ethical codes of conduct have been teaching this ideal for thousands of years. The clarity and simplicity of the “Golden Rule” is part of its powerful universal appeal.
Select versions of the “Golden Rule” from various faith traditions
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udana-Varga 5:18)
Confucianism: ‘Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23)
Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517)
Humanism: “Don’t do things you wouldn’t want to have done to you.” (The British Humanist Society)
Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (#13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.)
Jainism: “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.” (Sutrakritanga 1.11.33)
Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.” (Dadistan-i-dinik94:5)
Of course there are arguments that the “Golden Rule” falls apart when taken to extremes. It is also important to note that the “Golden Rule” presumes that we are good to ourselves. It has been theorized this presumption that we are good to ourselves is the most critical flaw of the “Golden Rule”. What if we’re extremely self-absorbed, or hedonistic? Suicidal? Extremely addicted? . . . can the golden rule lead you toward making ethical—and, at times, life-determining—choices? There is also the very real scenario where what you deem “good’ for you, is not in reality “good” for another.
To fully realize the love directive, we must also add the context of self-love and self-knowledge. Equally important is knowledge of each other and open, honest dialogue about what “love” looks like for each person. The trouble is we have often internalized overly generalized notions about what “love” looks like. In reality “what love is” can be very context specific. To love one another we must first love and know ourselves; additionally, we must know/understand what ‘being loved’ means and looks like for the other person.
Dr. Annah K. Amani ( M.P.H., Ph.D.) is a regular contributor on Africa Tembelea. She is committed to advancing total well-being, progress and development.