The Ethic of Reciprocity

Gravatar… also known as the Golden Rule. I’m sure it is nothing new to you. It is a very old rule. Throughout history, philosophers, psychologists, religions and societies have worded the rule in many different ways. But the basic and very simple truth behind it remains unchanged when it comes to living in peace and equality with one another.

“Treat others as you would like others to treat you”
“Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated”

An Angry Man
As a teenager (a long time ago) I remember being in the car with my mum, driving back from my Grandparents farm. We passed through a little town where a hearse was entering the church grounds in preparation for the afternoon ceremony. The hearse was carrying the bodies of my mothers’ childhood best friend and her young daughter. My mother began to sob and slowed the car down as despair reduced her ability to control it effectively. I then remember the man who sped past us, blasting his horn and shouting out to my mother, “Stupid Bitch!”
It was an angry man who had taken those lives from my mother and now another angry man had completely disrespected and disregarded her in that moment of grief.

Two Radio Jocks
This past week, a nurse working in the exclusive King Edward VI Hospital in the UK received a call from the Queen and Prince Charles inquiring after the health of the Duchess of Cambridge. She promptly transferred them through to the correct ward where they were given information about the Duchess. Later, the nurse and hospital realised they had been victims of a hoax call from two Australian radio jocks pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles.
Those two radio jocks are now said to be ‘shattered’ and ‘bewildered’ with the news that the nurse committed suicide, seemingly unable to bear the very public humiliation and judgment initiated by their prank.

Applying the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule is about remembering the basics of human decency and having respect for one another at those times when our worlds collide. People … strangers … are not objects for our abuse or amusement. We should treat them as we would like to be treated.
For my part, I have always done my best (but not always with success) to apply the Golden Rule in my dealings with others – I was raised that way. But as my mental health has changed, so has the way I need to be treated. In some ways I think my problems have made me a more compassionate and tolerant citizen than I previously was.
If I see others as being the same as myself and therefore treat them how I would like to be treated … I see fragile creatures, delicately held together at times and completely unpredictable when it comes to facing the stress and pains of life.

I also don’t immediately assume strangers that inconvenience me are bitches or assholes trying to make my life difficult (even though in some cases they may be 😉 ). And, I have learned to never assume others are tough enough to bear abuse and humiliation.

Inquests will be held regarding the nurses death, commentators and journalists will make their judgements, practices at the radio station and hospital will change. But I wonder if there will be any finding regarding the need for greater application of the Golden Rule.

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21 thoughts on “The Ethic of Reciprocity

  1. Well said, if we all at least try to treat others as we would like to be treated this world would be a lot better. I feel for that poor nurse, if she had simply made a mistake it could have had nasty repercussions but to have it happen for a ‘joke’ is simply disgusting. I hope she knew that most people were annoyed at the DJ’s not her and that she can rest in peace 😦

    • Disgusting … yes. The biggest challenge in writing this was containing my anger so that I could hopefully post something constructive.

  2. Great article and great advice! Like you said, it’s something we all know but for one reason or another we don’t seem to exercise the mental discipline needed to prevent anger, carelessness, or thoughtlessness from unhinging our brain. We all need to do better.

  3. I wonder if I am the only one that had the Golden Rule used against me. People are not hurt by the things that harm me and defend themselves saying that if they were treated like that it wouldn’t bother them. They said they were being nice and doing nice things and they would like to be in my place or wouldn’t be upset. They were treating me like they would like to be treated, but we are different, I don’t want to be treated like others would want to be treated, I have needs that are different and I’m hurt by things that don’t bother others.

    Treat others like they would like to be treated, sounds better, especially if you are different from the majority of people.

    • I agree. That does sound better. The Golden Rule is surely only the minimum we should expect from others. But as we are complex beings and not all the same, asking someone ‘how would you feel if’ or ‘would you mind if’ would get us the next step closer to understanding them and their needs.

      Communication beats assumption every time.

  4. I try very hard to live by that rule. Like you say, I don’t always succeed because well, I’m only human but I hold myself accountable at all times. Growing up, when I hadn’t learned to control my anger, it was very difficult, though. So I sought solitude. It was better to be on my own than to snap at others.

    But yes, we all need to be more compassionate, more empathetic. Take that angry man, for example. Had he been stopped and made to hear the reason, would he have been embarrassed? Ashamed of himself for being so rude (OK, let’s face it, he wasn’t just rude, he was being an asshole but whatever)?

    When we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we might see there’s a good reason for what they’re doing and we might even find we can relate. And when we relate, we treat others better

    • Yes. None of us are perfect at applying this – but I don’t think it is too much to ask others and more importantly ourselves to at least try.

      As for an angry Summer Solstice Girl … scary! 😉

      • HAHAHAHA Yes, I think all my classmates were scared of me. And yet, I was the president of my class and tutored a lot of them in math, physics and chemistry for free. I was mostly a very serious girl. Never smiling or laughing.

        And yes, it is definitely not too much to ask, of ourselves and of others.

        Hope you are doing well…

        • I am in limbo. Currently on holidays and therefore away from work and any real life or home responsibilities. It is nice and I feel really good. But I am worried it is more a case of ‘ignorance is bliss’ because whenever I think of ending this holiday I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I have 4 days left, it has been good … and I’ll take that!

          Hope you are well too! 🙂

          • ah, I hear ya. Of course I don’t ‘know” how you feel but I’ve been there too and I’ve felt that sick feeling in my stomach when thinking about going back to work or school or whatever after the leave of absence or holiday break was over.

            But at least you’re feeling good now. Hope those last days go smoothly and try not to think to much about it if you can (I know that’s almost impossible).

            I’m good, thank you. I like Christmas and the holidays always make me happy, so I’ll take that too 🙂


  5. Rabbi Hillel, who lived at the same time as Jesus and in fact was one of Jesus’ most influential teachers, was walking in the street in Jerusalem one day. A non-Jew (probably a Roman, at that time) approached him and said, “If you can teach me the entire Torah standing on one foot, I will become a convert to Judaism.” Rabbi Hillel stood on one foot and said “Never do unto another, what you would not want him to do to you. Now go and study.”

  6. Since you wrote this post there has been the dreadful massacre in America. I don’t know what prompted the shooter to do what he did. What he did was totally beyond my understanding but I have been reminded of the importance of the golden rule. The touch of human kindness can really make a difference in someone else’s life.

    • It is not something I can comprehend or understand either and it is hard for me not to think about it too much.
      One thing is certain. There are many families in that community right now who will need to experience and feel some human kindness as they deal with an unimaginable grief.

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