the golden rule

the golden rule**this post is part of rachel held evans’ synchroblog this week on the rally to restore unity.  there’s some fun stuff over there this week!

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when i was a kid my mom had a plaque on her wall that said “whoever has the gold makes the rules”.  looking back, oh how true those words can sometimes be in the systems that we live in!   it was years later before i read the real golden rule, Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount–“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (matthew 7:12).

every other world religion has something else close to the same idea:

  • hinduism“this is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” – mahabharata 5:1517
  • islam“none of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” number 13 of imam al-nawawi’s forty hadiths
  • judaism – “what is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. this is the law: all the rest is commentary.” talmud, shabbat 31a.
  • confucianism – “tse-kung asked, ‘is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’ confucius replied, ‘it is the word ‘shu’ — reciprocity. do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'” doctrine of the mean 13.3
  • baha’i – “ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not…blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” – baha’u’llah
  • taoismthe 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

the world would be a different place if we honored those words.

but i wonder also if a huge part of the divide between people is that inside we don’t like ourselves, either.  if we don’t like ourselves, how in the world can we like anyone else?   if we hate ourselves, then we pass on hate.   if we’re used to being treated poorly, then that’s what we pass on to others.  if we have a God of doctrine & dogma, then we will pass on that God to others.

we all know that bullies are bullies because inside they feel insecure somehow.  unloved.  unvaluable.  somehow lacking.

my experience in christianity is that  most people don’t really love themselves very well, either. we actually are “loving our neighbor as ourselves” and that often means “not too nicely”.  for many,  there’s a deep insecurity inside, some kind of void that leaves a lot of room for defensiveness and fear. (oh, i lived this way for a long time & did my share of unity-destruction, that’s for sure).  the “i’ve-got-to-prove-this-or-else-i’ve-got-nothing-left” mentality that robs joy, life, and free relationship with other people.  many of us are indeed loving our neighbors as ourselves–out of fear, anger and hate instead of love, hope, and peace.

my hope for unity is that we’d all become people with a deep sense of love in our core, a strong sense of knowing who we really are as people–accepted and free. and that out of that quiet strength, we’d be able to roll with others’ differences, not need to defend what doesn’t really need defending, and retain our own identity.  that we’d be secure people who have nothing to prove.

open people, willing to listen.  kind people, willing to agree to disagree.  loving people, willing to respect others’ dignity.

when we have nothing to prove, we are released to love others more freely, more fully.  no agenda.  no bullying.  just a desire for mutual respect.

God,  let us know the true love that you have for us.  help us to accept it as our own so that we may give it  freely to others.

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ps:  more coming soon on this, too, but i wanted to let you know that we are in the final stages of production for down we go: living out the wild ways of Jesus. i am very excited about this project for all kinds of reasons, mainly because it’s the topic i’m most passionate about–the weird wild beautiful upside down ways of Jesus.  there’s now a facebook page which will be updated with info about it. it’d be great if you could go over there and “like” it when you have a chance.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I wonder if we love ourselves in the way we think God loves us. Having lost my certainty, and therefore my identity :), I find that I am really struggling to believe that God loves and accepts me like this. Ok, maybe I’m not struggling as much as I don’t believe he loves me like this. That is showing me how little I have understood God’s love for people who didn’t believe like me, and therefore how poorly I have loved them–and it breaks my heart. If our understanding of God’s love, and our ability to receive his love, love ourselves, and love others depends on our special status before God and the exclusion of others from his acceptance…ouch. Since I’m not convinced of that exclusion any more, I hope to know God’ love for all better, but so far I find that my understanding of love has not found a resting place or foundation yet. 🙁

    On a side note, some of us were discussing evangelism last night, and I so heartily wish that people followed the Golden Rule rather than traditions in pursuit of evangelism! Having lived in a Muslim country, I had the privelege of experiencing what it is like when people want me to convert…and every time I came away more convinced than ever that I never want to do that to anyone!

    • oh thanks so much for your honest thoughts, christen. i am guessing that’s why everything was summed up in those simple (but oh-so-difficult-to-do) commandments. following the law was a piece of cake, this love thing, yikes. i think of you often & hope our paths cross soon.

  • oh my, kathy! you have outdone yourself with this one 🙂 so VERY beautiful!

    and i needed to hear this today. it fits so closely with the issues of going to court and how i want to live my life vs dealing with the anger of this situation.

    thank you so much!

  • Wow, very well put… And a much-needed reminder….. Thanks, Kathy! 🙂

  • Isn’t it interesting how the same thought seems to be within all religions even if it’s heavily buried by condemnatory stuff. I’m particularly interested in the Tao or Way and how Yeshua seems to be its incarnation in the same way that He fleshes out the Greek Logos.

    • dylan – thanks for sharing. yes, it is interesting & wild, the common thread shared by all that gets down to the most important things–love & dignity.

  • I read these variations on the “golden rule”, then read history and observe people. Much of what I read and observe appears that loving other people means trying to make them look like me, which validates who I am, what I believe and how I treat others.

    In “Christian” terms, this means that others should “get saved”, “go to church”, interpret the Bible the way I do, have similar political views and very similar views on hot button issues, such as LGBTs & abortion.

    How about loving people for who they are, loving with no agenda and being fine if they don’t look like or think like me. If we’re all supposed to look alike and think alike, God coulda’ made us that way.

    • sam, oh that is so true, it’s easy to love people just like us or that are somehow on the “same team”…but loving freely, fully, embracing all of our diversity and accepting others (and ourselves) as we are is much trickier to do, that’s for sure.

  • you have the scripture reference wrong for the golden rule. It is not Mark 6:31, it is Matthew 7.12.


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