By Stuart Greenbaum
Woefully antiquated and ambiguously drafted, both the Bible and U.S. Constitution would benefit greatly from some editorial revisions. Since this’ll never happen, the next best, maybe even better thing is to improve upon the transcendent rule, the common moral denominator of both these venerated texts.
The Golden Rule says it best: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yet, while its intention is pure, the phrase could benefit from a touch of contemporary wordsmithing. This revelation — based more on semantics than wokeness — concerns all being equal to, rather than different from.
While the Rule’s sublime message of mutual respect supplants all religious and government declarations, its antiquated language perpetuates a troubling societal problem: othering. The exclusionary, divisive, even polarizing labels “others” and “them” permeate virtually every aspect of uncivil and anti-social behavior. Othering subordinates and discriminates. The us-versus-them (and moreover, us-against-them) mentality, in particular, is at the core of racism, sexism, ageism, ableism and xenophobia. Quite literally, “them’s fighting words.”
ON WHOSE AUTHORITY?
A public relations professional, admittedly, does not necessarily represent an authoritative discipline worthy of proposing modification to such a profound message. Then again, none of the obvious standard bearers, be they philosophers, historians, academicians or clergy, seem anxious to take the Rule to task. So it preternaturally falls upon public relations — “the science of artful communication” — to call out the irony and hypocrisy of the Rule as written; and to propose a “new and improved” version. One that could more universally influence public attitudes and actions.
With due humility, here is my “other” wise draft of a more empathetic version of the Golden Rule:
“Do for one another as you would have all do for you.”
Definitely the challenge of inspiring everyone to follow the Golden Rule goes beyond words. Socialization on this scale evolves from our actions — what we do, not what we say. That humans suffer the intrinsic flaw of selfishness complicates such golden behavior modification.
Thinking optimistically and/or naively, one approach to marginalizing the problem with othering might be trying to reverse engineer human nature; A recent Psychology Today essay notes that such divisive extreme thinking oversimplifies and distorts complex problems by separating the world into others who can be scapegoated and vilified. The reason for this, according to several of the journal’s writers, is that our self-esteem comes partly from our desire to be a member of a group. Which, in turn, fosters our competitive spirit to feel and be better than others.
How can this be overcome? By rebranding humanity? The Psychology Today writers suggest one answer involves “boundary spanners” — immigrants, and multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic and transgender individuals, etc.– who belong to multiple groups and social worlds. Rather than finger-pointing, shunning or otherwise over-emphasizing boundary spanners, we should “honor and empower” all who help bridge societal divisions.
Regardless of where or who we stand with presently, it is in humankind’s future, collective best interest — culturally, economically, environmentally, legally and especially politically — to fulsomely integrate with one another. To achieve such a monumental task will require all of us to nurture an empathetic, humble new generation committed to “Do for one another as you would have all do for you.”
Stuart Greenbaum is lead writer for the Humble Sky blog. With more than forty years experience as a public relations counsellor, he has directed dozens of initiatives thematically and practically based on following the Golden Rule.