Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ah, the Golden Rule

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
(John Donne, 1572-1631, “Meditation XVII”)

I went hiking with a couple of friends and a couple of acquaintances last Sunday. One of my friends inquired of the new guy, "do you go to church, Andrew?" A comment Andrew had just made about making the transition from Roman Catholic to public school in the 7th grade had made me smile. He recounted an instance where class had been dismissed, and he stood and made the sign of the cross. His habit embarrassed him, as it would just about any seventh grade boy, and he remembered wondering at the time would he be ostracized by his classmates. Time and distance for this now 56-year-old man gave a smile to him as well. Concerning his church habits these days, “No,” he replied quietly. “I just try to follow the golden rule.” He went on to point out that what we in the Christian tradition call the golden rule is inherent in all formalized religious traditions. The number he recalled is “eight” traditions. Reading about the history of this maxim or concept of human rights is just a few keystrokes away on our computers. Anyway, as he said this, I thought and then replied that if everyone practiced this, imagine what a different world we would live in. It would indeed be heaven on earth, just as God intends and just as Jesus, the great teacher, taught during his journey on earth.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NKJV) After lunch yesterday with a husband and wife couple I met recently through our shared passion of collecting antiques (actually, her passion, not his), she rode with me back to their home near Lamy, New Mexico where I had been invited to see their house and the fruits of her collecting habit. As we drove, she asked if I write. A mutual friend had told her so. I replied that I have a blog, but that I haven’t had all that much to say for close to two years. “After our mother died more than four years ago, I found that I had plenty to say about a lot of things,” I offered. Before Mother’s death, I had already begun with stories about family and about adult family friends who had made their mark on me as a child. I wanted to give these little gifts to her. “I surprised myself with the direction my writing took,” I said yesterday, adding that religion and spiritual matters seemed to be at the heart of what I somehow need to put into words.

These days, things that likely would have pointed me toward my laptop keyboard a few years ago instead cause me to wonder, mostly to myself, and more importantly, to decide that I don’t really have much that I feel a need to commit to writing these days. I mentioned this to a friend several months ago, and she replied that when I had something to say, I would say it. Not more than a couple of weeks passed before something new showed up on my blog. And so it goes. I can hardly call it writer’s block since I don’t really consider myself a writer. I know that I have the ability to put words into a somewhat coherent and meaningful sequence. What invites me to comment at length are the things that more often than not simply piss me off. The result might be an unsolicited email to a friend or friends. Sometimes a message I’ve received seemingly requires me to reply—as much trying to make sense of something to myself as to make sense to someone else.

I hadn’t considered that what our hiking companion noted the other day would be part of connecting the dots with something headed toward me from just around the corner. But why wouldn’t it? And indeed it did. I received yet another forwarded message from a relative in Texas yesterday—the kind of message that at its heart is meant to breathe life into distrust, fear, and hate. I wrote about a similar forwarded message I received awhile back—this one from a different relative in Texas. The messages are all the same. First, and perhaps most importantly, they are based largely on untruths—untruths that have been combined with just enough of what is true or seems to be true to give them credibility. Someone somewhere put all of this into words that are meant to frighten and whip the reader into a lather, and most importantly for the sender, to in turn urge someone else to send it on to yet another group of readers. And so the lie grows. In spirit, these emails are not unlike “shouting fire in a crowded theatre" a popular metaphor and frequent paraphrasing of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States in 1919. We understand the results of such behavior.

We all have agendas. Maybe we at times intend to deceive. At other times we deceive unknowingly. We become confused by our own ignorance and by fear. It is the way of humankind. Even though we are capable of the worst, all we have to do is look around us to see the goodness that we are equally capable of. Once again, I am begged to question motive. If I choose to engage in tongue wagging or fear mongering, who or what does this serve? One thing I know for certain is that it serves no good. If I mistakenly believe that my gain is served by the loss of others, I have indeed fooled myself. There is no shortage of good in this universe. Know it, believe it, and act on it. Regardless of how carefully I might try to fool myself, I do not gain at the expense of someone else. I give thanks to our hiking companion from the other day for causing me to, once again, “get it”. Imagine what a different world we would live in. It would indeed be heaven on earth, just as God intends and just as Jesus, the great teacher, taught during his journey on earth. "One should seek for others the happiness one desires for himself." (Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, BCE 563-483) “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” (Sunnah, Islam, Mohammed, CE 570-632)

Ah, the Golden Rule—Albuquerque, New Mexico (September 7, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis