The Golden Rule

I sing in a Unitarian Universalist church choir, and we recently starting learning the third movement of a piece titled Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata, which consists of one movement for each source of Unitarian Universalism. The movement we are singing is inspired by the third source, “Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life”, and the composer, Jason Shelton, chose the Golden Rule (do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you) as the centering theme of the piece. It is a simple yet beautiful and moving piece of music. He intersperses a repeated chorus with spoken words – quotes from many different religious all expressing a version of the Golden Rule, and concludes with a chant of the word “peace” in several different languages.

I was deeply moved to see together on one page the same moral belief expressed over and over by so many different religions. I found a website (one of many) that includes all the quotes in the music and more: Versions of the Golden Rule in 21 world religions. The words of the chorus touch on the shared humanity that I felt in reading these quotes: “Many windows, one light; Many waters, one sea; All lifted hearts are free”. To me, it is very powerful to think that across time and place, many different religions have espoused the same simple concept, and it makes me both sad and hopeful. Sad, because it seems that in daily practices and beliefs some groups within some religions have lost touch with the Golden Rule; groups that endorse violence and intolerance rather than acceptance and love. On the other hand, I am hopeful, because these quotes illustrate how very fundamental this rule is, and thus it must be possible for people to understand and rediscover meaning in it. I believe that if people take the time to sit down and read these quotes and think about what they mean to them, they will feel more compassion and understanding and start to question the incessant violence in the world.

What does the Golden Rule mean? Most fundamentally, simply to consider your actions; to put yourself in the place of others in order to understand whether you are doing something that may be hurtful to them. For me, this is particular crucial when your actions are violent, either physically or emotionally. Additionally, I think it is helpful to think of it in terms of general treatment of fellow humans rather than specific daily actions. If you would feel hurt to be treated with anything other than love, respect, and compassion, then you should make sure that you are always treating others with respect. This could in fact include doing a specific act for someone that you would *not* want done for you – because you listened to the person and did something that was truly important to them, rather than acting on your own beliefs or opinions about that person. For example, if you were grieving, you may wish to be left alone, while someone else who is grieving may wish for company. Just as you would hope that people would listen and respect your needs when you tell them to leave you alone, you should listen to the person who wants company and give them what they need. Thus, I interpret the “do” in the Golden Rule as meaning the fundamental way that you interact with others.

I am looking forward to sharing this piece of music with my congregation when we sing it in a service, and to read aloud one of the quotes during the piece. I hope that others will feel moved by it and that we can together remember and share the importance of the Golden Rule.

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One Response to The Golden Rule

  1. A.S. says:

    I like the way you have interpreted the golden rule, in the larger sense of thinking about what the other person really needs, even if it is different from what you yourself might need. However, a major problem with the golden rule in general is that people who are violent towards others are simply unable to put themselves in their victims’ place. That’s because they themselves have experienced violence from others, sometimes very early in life. They are essentially doing to others what was done to them. Most violent criminals were abused (physically or sexually) as children. Teaching them the golden rule will not help unless this teaching is accompanied by compassion and psychotherapy so they can heal from their own past wounds.

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