“If your actions were to boomerang back on you instantly, would you still act the same?
― Alexandra Katehakis, psychotherapist
Stock markets unpredictable, spectres of inflation or recession, politics crazy, Roe v Wade demonstrations on both sides, world events worrying, nerves on edge. Looking for someplace to stand? During these trying times, we might consider the wisdom of moving more toward the gold standard.
I am not alone. Who is in my camp? To name just a very few...Karen Armstrong, religious historian; Dr. Donald Pfaff, neurobiologist; Colleen Barrett, retired CEO of Southwest Airlines, and Jeanne Bliss, customer service consultant. They’re calling for solidarity, for fresh appraisals and research, for new applications, and for activism.
But the gold standard may not be what you think. This gold standard is an ancient prescription found in some form in every known civilization. It’s a powerful recipe for global peace, solid families, thriving businesses, rewarding friendships, and the good life. It's so short, you can say it while standing on one foot.
Some people heroically practice it. Remember Wesley Autrey?
Autrey is the construction worker who was waiting with his two daughters at a Harlem subway station when he noticed a young man, Cameron Hollopeter, having a seizure. Autrey and several others attended to Hollopeter until he said he felt fine and stood up.
Unfortunately, Hollopeter wasn’t fine. After he stood up, he stumbled, and fell onto the subway tracks just as the train was approaching.
Autrey immediately jumped onto the tracks, pulled the man into a space between the rails and held him as the train passed right about their heads.
The gold standard, the ancient prescription, is, of course, what we refer to as “the golden rule.” We usually hear it as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We understand it as part of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but it’s also known as the “universal ethic” (and is sometimes quoted as “do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you.”) We may have heard it so often we consider it hackneyed.
But something interesting happens to other people who witness people like Wesley Autrey practicing the golden rule. We smile, we clap, sometimes we choke up and even cry. We are elevated.
Neuroscientists, like Pfaff, say that our brains are “wired” to approve of those who practice the golden rule. If we’ve been raised in relatively humane, healthy environments it’s not too hard for us to understand our own feelings, imagine the feelings of others, and come to their aid.
Armstrong says we must focus as individuals and nations on living the golden rule - on being more compassionate, fair, and empathetic if we are to survive. We must become aware of procedures, policies, and polemics which thwart our compassion and pump up our greed, fear, and aggression.
Hard-nosed business people like Barrett and Bliss say that high performance organizations who serve consumers exceptionally well are built on the golden rule. The golden rule percolates throughout the culture. Everyone in the workplace becomes attentive to others' needs and wants. Employees who practice the golden rule feel happy; those they work with and serve feel happy.
Some business people like Isadore Sharp, the Founder and Chair of the Four Seasons, and Andy Taylor, the CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, construct consumer and employee surveys which address satisfaction. They think the surveys keep them focused on practicing the golden rule at work which they believe is the reason they’re successful.
If we at least can open ourselves to the possibility of the wisdom of the ancients and stand at least temporarily with the contemporary golden rule activists, what might we do?
We might go online and consider signing Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion. https://charterforcompassion.org/affirm-and-share-the-charter-for-compassion#.
We would be joining the ranks of the the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Sir Richard Branson. We might browse all the resources on the website and imagine our families, schools, businesses, churches, healthcare, communities, countries, and a globe filled with people committed to compassion and to living the golden rule. We might find some hope. We might be inspired.
Still not so sure about the wisdom of practicing the golden rule? Maybe it looks to you like only a dog-eat-dog attitude can help civilizations survive...are you thinking of Darwin? Ok, let's look at what Darwin actually wrote in The Descent Of Man....
“Sympathy will have been increased through natural selection for those communities which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”
When Darwin theorizes that it's the most compassionate people, the most compassionate communities that survive, he is lining up with ancient wisdom and advice handed down many generations to live by the golden rule.
What does it even mean to survive as a civilization. What is civilization?
Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.
But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”
We could go ahead and at least consider honoring our neurobiology, our ancient teachers, and scientists and experiment with kindness. Perhaps we might be more intentional around offering a smile for a stranger, words of encouragement or appreciation to a friend, helping someone else through difficulty. Let's at least open our minds and hearts to the potential power of the golden standard. Let's hold this question for a few days...
Could it be true… that the path, the gold standard for the good life is not a surprise, but rather is ancient wisdom... and is embarrassingly, short, simple, and accessible to all… do unto others as you would have them do unto you?
Let's see what happens by sincerely holding the question. And, if you are open to doing politics from a civilized, compassionate, golden rule standpoint, listen to this five minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrpZzOxJSn8 from our mentor, Dr. Frank Rogers.
How might we Journey to the Good Life by holding the possibility of the wisdom of the golden rule?
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