The Golden Rule. Google it and you get "about" 9,510,000 hits (yes, I googled it, so the number is "about" accurate.) Ask every random person on the street about it, and they'll all tell you similar versions of what it is. It crosses culture, religion affiliations, generations, everything. We teach it to our children. It's simple. People aspire to it. It's sometimes referred to as The Ethic of Reciprocity. Different cultures use it as a standard to resolve conflict.
So, with all it's popularity and seeming simplicity, why do we not always practice it? As humans, we are automatically selfish. We have an inherited need to put ourselves first. The Golden Rule requires that we think about others and how our actions and behaviors affect them. However, it doesn't stop there. To become a practitioner of TGR, we then have to adjust our actions and behaviors. I think that's the most difficult part, and where many fall short in practicing The Golden Rule.
As a Christian, it is our responsibility to practice The Golden Rule. Leviticus 19:18 says "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." Just in case we're unclear, Jesus even breaks it down for us in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
By practicing TGR in all your interactions, your kind actions will be noticed by others, especially by whom they are directed. Then, typically, others reciprocate those behaviors and are nice to you. I know, none of this sounds trivial, but many of us, myself included, don't always do it. I mean, yeah sure, you're nice to people you meet on the street, in the store, the old lady that lives across the street. But what about the people who you're closer to? We tend to have higher expectations for those that we feel "owe" us something: family members, friends, spouses, etc. No, I'm not saying we're mean to those people, but we don't always give them as much lead-way and tend to hold them to higher standards.
So, how can we become more effective in upholding the principles of TGR? Here are a few practical tips I found on a site that hit home for me, and I added my own spin to them:
1. Practice empathy. Really try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, it's not always as easy as it may sound, especially when in a conflict situation. Really try to understand where the person is coming from or what the situation might be like for them.
2. Do just what the Golden Rule says, try to think how you would want to be treated? But do not just treat them exactly as you want to be treated, but once you put yourself in their shoes, imagine how they want to be treated and what their needs are. If you can meet any of their needs, even in a small way, do so.
3. Be helpful. I think this is a HUGE area that society falls short. Our society tends to make us feel uncomfortable or nosey when we help people. People tend to stay to them selves, ignoring the problems of others. Or, we feel we have our own problems and don't have time for the problems of others. Don't be blind to the needs of others. Help before you're asked.
4. Don't criticize. We naturally tend to do this. We judge others without fully knowing their situation and we criticize. We even do it with people we don't know. We compare others to ourselves, not taking into consideration that we come from different backgrounds, different experiences, different circumstances. We really don't know what we would do in someone's situation until we are in those situations ourselves.
5. Rise above retaliation. I admit, I struggle with this and actually had an incident this pass weekend that I fell a little short in this area. TGR isn't about retaliation, it's about treating others as you would want to be treated, regardless of how they treat you (key). That doesn't mean you can't assert your needs and rights, but do so in a way that doesn't treat others badly just because they treated you badly first.
6. Be the Change. When we think of change, we tend to think of big things, poverty, racism, injustice, violence.... but change also applies to a much smaller scale: to our interactions with others. Do you want people to treat each other with more compassion and kindness? Let it start with you!
7. Listen to others. We all want to talk and want someone to listen, but few of us want to listen! So take your time to actually listen to others instead of simply waiting your turn to talk. A skill of counseling is Active Listening. When I was first introduced to the term in graduate school, it was quite difficult to do. We were paired up and had to repeat everything our partner said in our own words: "So, what I hear you saying is....." I was surprised at how many times I was wrong about what my partner was actually saying! Active Listening is a skill that takes practice to master, but is worth it!
Okay, 7 is a nice number. 7 principles to help apply TGR! :)