Growing up Christian, I understood the golden rule as one that cautioned against inflicting harm on others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you meant “don’t hurt anyone.”
More precisely, I was raised Catholic, the religion of the half-full glass. The golden rule was a piece of cautionary advice to keep one from sinning, not as a way to channel enlightenment of any sort. In other words, good behavior meant NOT doing something sinful. You didn’t get extra credit for going above and beyond.
The golden rule is easy to follow when people refrain from doing their worst. But it’s not as useful when people merely fall short of doing their best.
The Ten Commandments is a list of things that will tarnish your soul if you don’t follow the rules. Moses brought these tenets down from the mountain and shared them with the Israelites. There’s nothing positive here, in fact, they’re almost all pretty scary, although as children in Sunday school classes, we learned all ten and kept them in the back of mind for future use.
So few really applied to me, I thought. But maybe someday when I grow up... I will make use of that one about adultery or stealing. Meanwhile, life goes on. My siblings and I rode our bikes and went to school and set the table before dinner… as innocent as the next child. We followed parents’ rules, not exactly god’s rules. Which of the commandments really applies to a ten-year-old, outside of commandment number four — honor your parents?
About 1300 years later, Jesus came along and neatly summed them up into two: Love God above all. And love your neighbor as you love yourself. Freedom.
All Faiths Share The Golden Rule
Turns out Jesus was in good company. Every major religion has a similar ethic, presumably discouraging people from drawing first blood and provoking a tit-for-tat retaliation with no end in sight. It seems to be all about keeping the peace.