It is simple. Each moment we have a choice to work with others or against them. We can treat others as we would like to be treated or care only about ourselves. The consequences that flow from these choices are profound, having immediate and direct impact on our health, well-being and relationships. The consequences flow on indirectly, more or less endlessly. It is in everyone’s interest to choose wisely.
It is curious. In 1993 the first ever convention of the world’s religions gathered in Chicago to consider the role of religion in addressing the world’s troubles, and to see if the over 100 major religions of the world had anything in common. To their surprise all could agree the Golden Rule was a central value of their faith. In 1999 the journal American Psychologist declared a science of relationships was established at last, overlooking the fact that anthropologists had found evidence of the Golden Rule predating handwriting — 6,000 years ago. This was the only value passed from one generation to the next over the entire course of history. California’s landmark Commission on Self Esteem linked the Golden Rule with social responsibility as the fountainhead of this coveted personal achievement. Several of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people flirt with the spirit of the Golden Rule. In the last decade science has undertaken a serious study of happiness. It was “discovered” that living the Golden Rule was the ultimate engine of happiness.
Yet we live in societies that offer almost nothing in the way of a formal education about how relationships work. In fact, considering the prevalence of people of all ages caring more about themselves and working against others, with the dramatic mirror of social, cultural, economic and political relations, we have all been richly brainwashed to care first and foremost about ourselves. To deliberately treat others the way we want to be treated is like being a fish out of water.
Honestly, we are born selfish, prisoners of our ongoing experience, and in particular moment-to-moment desires. We draw exclusively from our own past experience for ideas about how to take care of what we want. We tend to like our ideas the best. We may not mean ill toward others, unless they interfere with what we want. Then we will accept them only if they give us what we want and put what they want aside. If not, they deserve our rejection. Then it is fight or flight time, in which everybody loses.
The alternative is collaboration. We are all important, none more or less than anyone else — equal. Being alive with a human body, mind and soul, unique in all the world settles the question of our worth once and for all. All are deserving of acceptance, respect, sensitivity to what is important for each of us and caring teamwork to help each other. We all have the responsibility to offer collaboration to others, and it is in everyone’s interest to insist upon it from others. Living this way brings out the best in each of us and in our relationships with others. This is the key to health of body, mind and spirit. Collaboration promotes well-being in relationships and protects us from the lost, while offering them help at the same time. It deepens friendships, builds healthy marriages and families and equips children with the most important set of tools they will need to live well in the world.
Locally collaboration promotes public health, educational excellence, good business, financial stability and efficient management of resources and government. Collaboration builds community for the benefit of all where the gifts, talents and passions of members can be mobilized naturally to address the needs of members. It goes a long way in preventing the ills of our time — bullying, domestic violence, child abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, crime and mental illness, just to name a few. On a global scale the problems of hunger, disease, clean water, energy, poverty, debt and economic stagnation, war, pollution, environmental degradation and even global warming are all the result of accumulating consequences of billions of lives based on the idea that it is better to receive than to give.
So what can you do? It is simple. Live your life well as a collaborator treating others as yourself, asking and insisting others to do the same. Live, work and play joyfully with everyone who will join you in this ethic and invite those who are not to join you. Ask your leaders in business, schools, churches, town government, legislators and anyone in authority to rise above self-interest and actively commit to the ethics of the Golden Rule and collaboration on a grand scale in all relationships.
Considering the Golden Rule is the essence of loving itself, what could you do that would be more important for your best life and a better world?
Thomas J. Gaffney, Psy.D., is a psychologist, chairman of the Bucksport Bay Healthy Communities Coalition and author of “A Prophecy of Love,” soon to be published on West Bow Press.