Deconstructing the Golden Rule

Treat Others as They Wish to be Treated

by Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2019

“Do unto others… “ we tend to fill in the rest without thinking. The infamous line is considered to be an ethic act of reciprocity… or is that an “eye for an eye” – at times I confuse the two. What I do know is that the so called “golden rule” is a maxim historically promoted by many cultures and religions shaping equality and a poetic justice of sorts.

It sounds marvelous, idealistically delicious with nuances of social justice, equality, democracy, inclusivity, empathy, compassion, juris prudence, impartiality – far beyond tolerance. Surely this is a constant calling for inclusivity!

Uh-oh! Did I just lose 30% or more of my reading audience?! So for those of us who dare to deconstruct constructs, I posit that the golden rule is not so golden, overrated and a rule unfairly applied.

Let’s review its members. The rule centers on me, myself and I in power and control doing to “others” what “others” will hopefully do to me in return. Lest we forget that the me, myself and I also gets to define the “other.” A dreadful assumption considering the historical cataclysmic multi-generational disrespect and disdain towards others… particularly not so golden in 2019!

The golden rule is one of those metanarratives that turns into a truism based on acceptance and repetition. These narratives and interpretations are normalized by those that it serves, typically going unchallenged. My contention is that the golden rule needs review and clarification. It is understood that well-intended Christian egalitarians will quickly point out the benevolence and universality of the rule based on holy scripture and documents such as the Constitution, Declaration of Independence pointing to their inherent inalienability.

If the golden rule was actuality true, would all human beings unequivocally agree that all human beings are equal under God and law? Would we agree, without hesitation, that inclusivity is part of the rule? Would we agree that the “other” in 2019 is viewed by all segments of our society as equal and not “exceptions” to the rule by way of age, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual preference and so on?

What if we alter the golden rule to “Do unto others as they wish to have done unto them. That shifts the dynamic, taking the “me, myself and I” out of the position of power and control. The reconstruction shifts the capital of the voice in power. It is the “other” who sets the stage – who sets the agenda as to what the “doing” should entail.

Imagine if at the Continental Congress of 1776 the white immigrant landowners would have asked women, Native Americans, slaves, indentured servants and recent immigrants, “What do you want to be done unto you?” Unfortunately asking such a question during such times was as foreign as the notion of bicycles, cars and planes. The golden rule applied to “some” but not to “others.”

The golden rule would cling throughout history to the truncated metanarrative “that all men are created equal” within the paradox of “equal but separate.” Yes, the notion that “all human beings are equal under God and law” reflects an ethical moral message regarding humanity and society that would remain only a metanarrative until the 1960s.

Since the inception of America, “the other” has been classified and defined as a second-class citizen with a history of struggling to be heard. The “other” has seldom been invited to the table of discourse as an equal, rarely asked to share counter-narratives, infrequently validated as being worthy of the golden rule and its collective sensibility.

American citizens are living in a time when the core of the golden rule has been politicized questioning whether the “other” is truly equal, has value and should even be considered. It is a time when Americans, as it has happened throughout our history, are being challenged to reflect on their moral compass as citizens – as human beings – recognizing, appreciating and respecting the ”other” – validating the other – and then doing unto them as they wish to have done.