Op/Ed: The Golden Rule

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The Golden Rule. Almost everyone knows the meaning of this principle of reciprocity in relationships with others. To, quite simply, treat others as you would like to be treated. But what if the meaning of this simple “rule” goes much deeper than it seems at first glance? Is this principle an ethical truth, or is it selfish at its core?

The Golden Rule originated from the Bible. When asked the most important commandment, Jesus said that, after loving God, loving one’s neighbor is of utmost importance.

“The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Bible, ESV, Mark 12:31).

Philosophers and non-philosophers alike have sought to understand this biblical commandment, including Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher.

Kierkegaard comments on this Golden Rule in his book, “Works of Love.” In this book, he claims that “poetic love” and “Christian love” are very different. The philosopher claims that poetic love, which speaks of love towards a chosen individual or “beloved,” is selfish at the core. To provide an illustration of this selfishness, he speaks of how, if two individuals have this poetic love between them and one of the two loves another “beloved,” the other individual will become jealous. However, if this love was truly selfless, the other individual should not care so long as the “beloved” is happy.

Instead of having one individual or several chosen individuals to which one’s love is directed, loving one’s neighbor, Kierkegaard argues, is to love all of humanity.

“…but one’s neighbour is as far as possible from being only one person, one and only, infinitely removed from this, for one’s neighbor is all men,” (“Works of Love,” Kierkegaard).

Therefore, this love is separate, different from friendship, because anyone can have friends and still have people they hate, people they would consider “enemies.”

Dr. Daniel Bloom, associate professor of philosophy, spoke about this “beyond friendship” during the West Texas A&M University Great Books Series on the topic of Kiergaard’s commentary on the Golden Rule.

“I think only if you’re really good can you go beyond friendship. And I think that’s the idea. The third space is, it’s explicitly unintelligible,” Bloom said.”What that means is, as soon as we move past the universal, we’re leaving rationality and explanation behind.”

So, instead of just loving friends or romantic partners “as ourselves,” the Golden Rule means loving everyone without exception. It is not the same as friendship or romantic love because it goes beyond the preferences and selfishness that are so often involved in human relationships. It is not, “I will love you for what you do for me,” but, “I will love you because you are a human being.”

In loving this way, there is a recognition that, at our core, we are all the same. We are all humans, and regardless of where we come from or what our social status may be, there is an equality we share that goes beyond all else.