Variations of the ancient protocol “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” have been shared and taught far and wide as the appropriate code of ethics for human behavior. The Parliament of the World’s Religions even made a Declaration Toward a Global Ethic and proclaimed the Golden Rule as the common principle for many religions. But does it work?
In massage and loving touch, I like to be touched with firm, strong pressure. My husband, however, likes to be touched with feather-light fingertips, almost like a tickle. So putting the Golden rule to good use, we do unto each other what we want done to us — and it doesn’t work at all. If he touches me lightly and I touch him firmly, neither of us feels properly touched.
Therein lies the problem with the Golden rule; we don’t all want to be treated the same way, physically or emotionally. Nor do we have a common threshold for what we allow others to “do unto” us. If a person feels undeserving of love and therefore is comfortable being treated horribly, he or she might allow others to mistreat him or her. Many people have damaged self-esteem, and I think I can speak for many of us when I say, “please do not do unto us what you allow others to do unto you!”
With a clear reality that this rule doesn’t work, why do so many religions and cultures support it? Because the Golden rule can work — but only if people have a strong sense of who they really are. I define “self-esteem” as “knowing your divine essence and living in alignment with that essence.” When you know your value, your true self, how you allow others to treat you (and how you treat them) is likely to be a far cry from what you allow if you believe yourself (or them) to be a sinner or worthless or undeserving. The Golden rule only works if you then share that esteem and respect reciprocally with others. Otherwise, the Golden rule needs to be bent to say “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”
Imagine that “who you really are” is like a glass full of sparkling, clear, pure, bubbly water — refreshing and delightful. As we grow up, important people in our lives, through their words and their actions, give us negative input that impacts our self-esteem.
It is as if your life experiences and the people around you begin pouring dirty, grimy motor oil into your glass of water. Since oil floats on water, a mucky layer of oil forms on top of your beautiful, pure effervescence. Now when you look at yourself, you see the oily muck instead of the clear, refreshing water, and you begin to believe that this mucky layer is who you are. We mistakenly believe that who we are is someone limited, fearful, undeserving, reserved, incapable, dependent, jealous, possessive, and weak — and we treat others that way.
Then, because we don’t like the way this oily muck looks or feels, we begin sprinkling glitter on top. We put on an inauthentic act to disguise our pain. We think our glittery ego layer will protect us or make people like us more and maybe even make us like ourselves more. While it might sometimes protect us from feeling more pain, it also “protects” us from feeling more love. Our inauthentic connections with others leave us feeling isolated and lonely. Ego, in both its damaged, mucky form and its bandaged, glittery form, is what blocks our access to self-esteem — to heart, to truth, to connection, to intimacy, to love — every time.
The pure, bubbly water — who we really are (our soul essence) — is covered up by the oil. The oil — who we think we are (our mucky thoughts and thought-generated feelings) — is covered up by the glitter. The glitter — who we want everyone else to think we are — is the façade we present to the world for self-protection.
When we enact the Golden rule from here, we bump into each other, glitter to glitter or muck to muck (that is, ego to ego), and it just doesn’t work. in order for the Golden rule to work, we need to transcend our egos, wake up our spirits, and treat each other and ourselves in recognition of the divine within. the Golden rule can thus be shortened to simply “Namaste.” the divine in me, greets the divine in you. When we behave accordingly, we experience harmony.