I posted a few days ago about the Golden Rule and how, despite its prevalence in a wide variety of religions and philosophies, humanity seems to struggle mightily with actually living it. I found a blog which did a 30-day series of posts highlighting the various versions. Some focus on the aspect of not harming others in ways you wouldn’t want to be harmed, such as in Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Baha’i. Some focus on bestowing the good you wish for yourself on others, such as Islam. Christianity and Jainism espouse a more generally empathetic approach to acting towards others, simply asking us to think about how we’d feel in the other person’s shoes. Still others simply bring attention to the ways in which we are all connected and united in existence, such as Taoism, Sikhism, Native Spirituality, and Unitarianism.
The problem clearly isn’t in the concept.
Not only are modern humans bad at empathy in general, we’re especially bad at empathy when we view the other person as “other”. And we’re really good at justifying our actions and thoughts, especially if we can hide behind some sort of rule or strong belief.
The Golden Rule in all its forms fails as soon as we allow ourselves to pretend that we are above the transgressions and offenses committed by others. The Golden Rule fails as soon as we draw lines and standards which set us on a pedestal above other humans. The Golden Rule fails as soon as we allow ourselves to pretend that, were we to sink so low as to do what these other people do, we would wish for someone to correct us and steer us back to what’s right.
The fact that so many major religions have specifically called upon followers to act with empathy, to put ourselves in the shoes of those we might otherwise treat as lower or lesser, should demonstrate to us that this is a very important element of human existence. If we can’t master this one thing, we fail at being a good human.
Maybe instead of teaching dogma and rules, doctrine and ritual, we teach empathy as the central tenet of all human faith. Maybe then we’d finally start to get it right.