Between the time God created the world and man created the Internet, prophets and pundits created The Golden Rule. They didn’t call it The Golden Rule, in all likelihood because they didn’t recognize its potential mileage. That coinage would evolve from visionary spinners.
Competing religions pounced on it, bequeathing history one of the earliest recorded instances of plagiarism. Notwithstanding, it’s a 24K maxim, an “ethic of reciprocity,” as it’s been called. You can see why “ethic of reciprocity” never caught on.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is the “to be or not to be” of maxims. Screw up any one of six or seven key words and you’re in danger of altering the meaning—and the effective cadence.
If you’re an English-speaking Confucian, you believe his words are, "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you." If you’re a Buddhist, the words you would use are, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Since both expressions preceded the Christian Era by six centuries, copyright law does not apply. A good thing too, since Ancient Greeks, Ancient Egyptians, Bahá'ís, Brahmans, Jainists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics and Jews all have their very own rhetorically-mnemonic versions, so subtly varying that the host of do-not-dos begin to sound like doobie-dos. (And there’s scant evidence Sinatra ever had an ethic of reciprocity in mind.)
I think of the Golden Rule on this day of my new year because during this period of reflection it saddens me that the only person I can identify as living by it completely is my seven-year-old grandson. In this, the 21st century of the not-so-good-Christian era, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you has become Do unto others as you would have them do unto others, or, Do unto others before they do unto you. I’m not just playing with words:
Consider that everyone and most action today is motivated by greed, which has its own “golden rule,” pontificated by that contemporary fictional “prophet,” Gordon Gekko, in the 1987 film “Wall Street,” the egocentric justifying, “Greed… is good.” And we see the results of what Wall Street did “unto others” with that carte blanche.
Consider that our country is run by men and women who seem to lose sleep only by virtue of plotting how to undermine each other’s efforts to do something for, i.e., “unto others,” i.e., for, our country.
Consider that in our xenophobia we attack from fear of being attacked, breed hatred because we’re hated because we breed hatred, discriminate indiscriminately out of blind ignorance cynically-fueled. We perpetuate the worst in ourselves to preserve what we mistakenly cling to as our past national, individual and collective, best.
The Talmud states, "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." I rest my case.