The good Samaritan stopping to help an injured stranger
It’s fascinating how many people don’t think much about morality. Morality is not trending. In popular media the word “morality” has overtones of being repressive, stuffy, outdated, smelling of religious authority, standing in need of sexual liberation. But when we get seriously mistreated, we are not only hurt and maybe angry but also indignant. We may protest, “He did not treat me like a human being.” Or when we do something seriously wrong, we know it. We can try to run away from the fact, but the fact goes with us, goes with us unconsciously, perhaps, and in the soul. Sooner or later, we need somehow to deal with it. Or where we face a major ethical decision where right and wrong are really at stake. How we use our awesome gift of free-will matters profoundly.
If human begins are all equal as we stand before God, if our basic wants and needs are shared, if we all face moral and spiritual choices, there should be a rule of living that expresses our common humanity.
It just so happens that the most widespread moral principle in the world is some version or other of the golden rule: Do to others as you want others to do to you. At first sight, just looking at the page or hearing it stated, we may find golden rule obvious and flat. Some people confuse it with an empirical generalization about social or cosmic reciprocity: the way you treat others is how you will be treated in return (or treat others well so that you will be well treated in return). But if we decide to work with the moral golden rule, we find life in it as new meanings and values emerge.
The freshly emerging golden rule practice may be interpreted as having different levels of meaning. The first level is the golden rule of sympathy. Act with consideration for others’ feelings as you would have others be considerate of your feelings. The world-wide practice of the golden rule at this level would be enough to transform the world; selfishness, thoughtlessness, and cruelty would be left in the dust.
However, despite its helpful sensitivity, the golden rule of sympathy is too low a standard for some situations. Sometimes we need to disappoint others’ feelings. Suppose a mother has a child who needs a shot at the doctor’s office, even though the child always cries pitifully at the approach of the needle. In this case, short-term sympathy is long term foolishness. Instead, mothers engage reason and think of the child’s long-term well-being. Sympathy is also limited since its response to immediate needs and sensational media images may lead to unwise actions; and sympathy may fail to embrace those we do not see.
What role does the golden rule play in your life? How have you developed sympathy with others?
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