The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, an ethical code, or a morality, that essentially states any of the following (see examples below):
- One should treat others according to how one would like others to treat one's self (positive, passive form)
- Treat others as you would like to be treated (positive, active form)
- One should not treat others in ways one would not like to be treated (prohibitive, passive form)
- Do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated (prohibitive, active form. Also called the Silver Rule)
The Golden Rule is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, in which each individual has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. A key element of the Golden Rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people with consideration, not just members of his or her in-group. The Golden Rule has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard which different cultures use to resolve conflicts.
The Golden Rule, as a concept, has a history that long predates the term "Golden Rule" (or "Golden law," as it was called from the 1670s). The ethic of reciprocity was present in certain forms in the philosophies of ancient Babylon, Egypt, India, Greece, Judea, and China. The "Golden Rule" however usually refers to the saying of Jesus of Nazareth: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (Matthew 7:12, see also Luke 6:31) The common English phrasing is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". A similar form appeared in a Catholic catechism around 1567 (certainly in the reprint of 1583).
The ethic of reciprocity has been a part of culture and religious laws from what seems to be the beginning of time. It is present in the first law code: The Code of Hammurabi. Here are some examples of the ethic of reciprocity in various religions, societies, and philosophies:
Ancient EgyptAn early example of the Golden Rule that reflects the Ancient Egyptian concept of Maat appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant which is dated to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do." An example from a Late Period (c. 1080 – 332 BCE) papyrus: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."
Ancient Greek philosophyThe Golden Rule in its prohibitive form was a common principle in ancient Greek philosophy. Examples of the general concept include:
- "What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. " – Sextus the Pythagorean The oldest extant reference to Sextus is by Origin in the third century of the common era.
- "Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others." – Isocrates
- "It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing 'neither to harm nor be harmed'), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life." – Epicurus
- "One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him." – Plato's Socrates (Crito, 49c) (c. 469 BC–399 BCE)
Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
—Dhammapada 10. Violence
Zi Gong asked, saying, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" The Master said, "Is not RECIPROCITY such a word?
—Confucius, Analects XV.24 (tr. Chinese Text Project)
Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.
—Confucius, Analects XV.24 (tr. David Hinton)
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.
—Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)
For those who set their hearts on me
And worship me with unfailing devotion and faith,
The way of love leads sure and swift to me.
Those who seek the transcendental Reality,
Unmanifested, without name or form,
Beyond the reach of feeling and of thought,
With their senses subdued and mind serene
And striving for the good of all beings,
They too will verily come unto me.
—[Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter XII.]
Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.Jeffrey Wattles holds that the golden rule appears in the following statements attributed to Muhammad:
—Muhammad, The Farewell Sermon
“Woe to those . . . who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due”The Qur'an commends:
—Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Unjust," vv. 1–4)
"those who show their affection to such as came to them for refuge and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves"Jainism
—Qur’an (Surah 59, "Exile," vv. 9)
In Jainism, the golden rule is firmly embedded in its entire philosophy and can be seen in its clearest form in the doctrines of Ahimsa and Karma
Following quotation from the Acaranga Sutra sums up the philosophy of Jainism:
Nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential.Judaism
In support of this Truth, I ask you a question – "Is sorrow or pain desirable to you ?" If you say "yes it is", it would be a lie. If you say, "No, It is not" you will be expressing the truth. Just as sorrow or pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all which breathe, exist, live or have any essence of life. To you and all, it is undesirable, and painful, and repugnant.
The concept of the Golden Rule originates most famously in a Torah verse (Hebrew: "ואהבת לרעיך כמוך"):
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.Taoism
—Leviticus 19:18, the "Great Commandment"
The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.
—Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49
Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.The Golden Rule is how I live my life. It is an ancient law and religious belief. If all people would understand that this is the central tenement of major morals of the world, we would live in a world of peace, wisdom, and true virtue. I try to live my life as an example of this principle, sometimes I fail, but I work daily in order not to. So treat your fellow human as you would like to be treated. If we all did this, there would be no Manhunt ads stating “No fats, No Fems.” Accept your fellow man, whoever they may be. The central tenement of the Chinese philosophy of Legalism is that all mankind is evil and through strict laws, the government can rid people of that inherent evil. I actually believe the opposite: All of mankind is good, they just need to be given the chance to show that goodness. If one day, the world realizes this concept, there will be no homophobia, there will be no racism, there will be no sexism, there will be no war, there will be no discrimination or hate of any kind.
—T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien
Over on my blog Cocks, Asses, and More there is a companion post to this one. It is also about the Golden Rule but describes it in a more personal way.
Thanks for reading.