Deconstructing the Golden Rule

Treat Others as They Wish to be Treated

by Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2020

“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 does it mean the proverbial “eye for an eye?” At times I get confused. 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 sense of 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.

This is especially true and poignant in 2020 when COVID-19 came knocking on every American door.

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. A classic American “Quid pro Quo.” But not so fast! Like all such metanarratvies – the words require some context given its universality that is too often taken for granted on behalf of others who may not always be at the table of power and control.

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” . . . who may be different.

The golden rule is one of those constructed truism based on acceptance and repetition. These 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 Bible, Constitution, Declaration of Independence pointing to their inherent inalienability.

If the golden rule was actuality true in word and deed . . .
~ 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 2020 is viewed by all segments of our society as equal without “exceptions” to the rule by way of age, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual preference and gender preference?
~ Would children be behind cages?

~ Would the quality of life of each citizen – human being be the highest priority for every American citizen?

What if we alter the golden rule to “Do unto OTHERS as THEY wish to have done unto THEM.”

That shifts the paradigm and 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. The “other” having a voice as to “otherness” and “difference.”

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.”

Imagine if throughout the 1920s and 1930s industrialists would have “done unto their workers” with profit sharing, environmental awareness and concern, humane working conditions and hours. If they would have, would there even be any reasons for the rise of unions?

So many “others” being left out of the golden rule. So many lives needlessly lost over centuries due to racism, sexism, misogyny and xenophobia excluding.

The golden rule would cling throughout history to the truncated metanarrative “that all men are created equalwithin the paradox of “equal but separate.” 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 delusional 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.

COVID-19 in 2020 has thrust America into a state of reflection regarding its 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.