COMMENTARY 788.4: The Golden Rule as the Road of Honor

Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, Confucius was asked, “Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?”

He answered, “Reciprocity. What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” This basic principle, now called the Golden Rule, can be found in every major religion and philosophy.

Although many people evoke one version or another of this rule, it’s often misused. You see, the Golden Rule is not primarily a rule of enlightened self-interest. Sure, people are more likely to be nice to you if you’re nice to them, but the moral center of this principle is lost if you simply view it as a rule of exchange: Do unto others so they will do unto you. Do unto others as they have done unto you. Do unto others before they do unto you.

The core of the Golden Rule is a moral obligation to treat others ethically for their sake, not ours, even if it’s better than the way they treat us. Therefore, we should be honest to liars, fair to the unjust, kind to cruel people.

Why? Certainly not because it’s advantageous, but because it’s right. And because the way we treat others is about who we are, not who they are. It’s like the man who broke off an argument that had descended into name-calling by saying, “Sir, I will treat you as a gentleman – not because you are one, but because I am one.”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 2

  1. Here the “rule” more over and over again, but never had it explained this way which makes so much sense! Thank you Michael for helping me understand and helping me shape my character.

  2. I remind myself of this rule often to help me make the best decisions I can in the interest of others. It’s also gratifying to know I did the right thing. I used to remind students that it’s often difficult to do the right thing, but it’s the right thing to do. I’m no angel, but we all need to strive to continually do better in our lives.

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