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Sunday October 24, 2004: Limits to the Golden Rule

                      How do we focus our energy in a difficult world -- on finding inner peace or on helping others?  I grew up with the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. It seemed simple enough. If I was friendly and extended goodwill people were almost always friendly in return.  If I was in a rotten mood the negative attitude seemed to be contagious. 

                       I just didn't know how to extend the rule. What about the people who carried their hurt as a protective shield?  They seemed to live off the goodwill of others, using their precious hurt to drain off the enthusiasm and patience of others, never changing the initial patterns of despair or dysfunction. Was there any value in extending the Golden Rule to them or were you giving to a bottomless pit? 

                       The world was full of manipulators and back stabbers.  I was told those actions would come full circle. People like that always did themselves in; there was no need to get even. Despite a strong belief in karma I admit I sometimes caught myself looking back over my shoulder. Was I checking to see if the cosmic reparations had kicked in?  Much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes felt an element of disappointment and confusion when the creeps continued to thrive and celebrate. How long could these patterns of behavior continue?  How did karmic balance play out? 

                       Sure, I could see the career victim's bitterness and the way it ate away much of the goodness that should have been in their life.  I could see the inner emptiness of the users and abusers as they worked themselves into a world of victims and petty-minded people who could all live by the same rules.  But what about those of us who continued sending out good?  I could give the best of myself to people who thought nothing of abusing the good will.  Where did karmic balance fit into the Golden Rule?

                       All right.  So, eventually I worked it out an explanation for my children.  If you send out negativity, I told them, you will probably get an instant reaction from triggering other people's defense systems.  More important, there is a part of yourself that clings to the bitterness and pulls the negativity back into your life.  This not only damages or destroys relationships, but fills up bitter pockets inside you with regrets and anger.  The negativity builds on itself, isolating you more and more from the oneness that could bring deep and lasting happiness.

                       When you send out goodness you feel better.  Maybe it won't come back right away.  Maybe it won't come back from the person you helped.  That's okay.  What you're creating is the way you want to be, and that creates an atmosphere around yourself.  True, it may not always shield you from evil or unhappy circumstance, but it does begin to draw others to you.  Goodwill is a force that grows over time, making you a better person and attracting people with similar values.  It opens the heart and allows positive energy to flow into the world.

                       You must still be realistic.  The Golden Rule insists on respect for others but it never demands giving all your time and energy to everyone you meet.  Nowhere are we told to be a doormat for other people's selfish interests. Indeed, at times the act of giving does not serve the best interests of others, but encourages less responsibility in their own actions. Learn to sit back and look at what really helps the situation. Focus on your attitudes, not your obligations or other people's expectations.

                       Despite our own misunderstandings, the Golden Rule itself is simple and effective.  That's why some version of it is found in almost every religion. No other moral code or course of action makes as large an impact on one's outer and inner worlds.  That, I tell my children, is the reason you make the effort -- not to change other people but to let the Golden Rule transform you.  In that very process of transforming your own life, you will begin to change the world around you.

 

Posted on Sunday, October 24, 2004 at 08:51AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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