Monday, June 1, 2020

Do unto others what you want them to do unto you

You pinch me and I just ignore it, but you cry foul and turn your back on me when I pinch you. Matthew 7:12, in the Holy Bible, reads, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law of the Prophets.”

“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise”-Luke 6:31. This is not just theory; it is a practical issue that occurs every day. For example, I cannot stand back and watch my neighbour’s house burn to ashes, and then expect my neighbour to help me when it is my house that is burning. At a young age, we are taught to treat others well as it compels them to be nice to us in return.

I fail to understand why people expect to be treated exceptionally when they cannot reciprocate. I come across such people daily. Imagine a childhood friend, with whom you shared everything, even your deepest secrets. At some point, the friend turns away from you and becomes distant and cold. All your efforts to find out what the problem is are met with indifference.

After numerous efforts to get your friend back, you give up and decide to chart your own solo way. And then the friend suddenly roars back to life, and comes rushing back to you with hugs and kisses, as if everything is okay between the two of you. How is it possible that the friend who not so long ago was tired and weary of you has suddenly regained their lost love and energy? But the fact is that the friend now wants you back, and they are selfish enough to expect you to welcome them back with open arms, without even a squeak about what went wrong.

Jeremy Sherman, a lecturer, writer and PhD candidate in Applied Evolutionary Epistemology, describes this as the bridge between empathy and sympathy; the difference between putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and making some accommodation for them.

“Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes is, of course, a figure of speech. What we really do is get a mind’s eye view, a virtual experience of ourselves in their situation” he says.

Sherman further says that animals are capable of doing violent things to each other, yet we don’t hold them to a human standard of morality.

“We don’t because we recognize that their capacity for empathy and sympathy is more limited than ours, limited by their lack of figures of speech. They can’t word their way to complex and subtle interpretations of each other’s feelings,” he says.

He adds that humans are capable of vastly more violent acts than animals. With their capacity for symbolic thought, they can mix and match not only toward empathy but toward innovation, including innovative ways of destroying things.

Disappointment comes with everyday life and it hurts most where it is least expected. In most cases people who like disappointing others are the last people to expect that to happen to them. I call that destroying other people’s emotions; you hurt others and expect them to smile back when you do.

So it is generally understood that what you hope others would do to you should simply be identical to what you would do to them. In practice, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, which is the reason none of us can apply it perfectly.

In practice, the Golden Rule is some sort of balancing act: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. It is also reciprocal: “Expect others to do unto you as you do unto them.”

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