As a general rule, I’m very suspicious of over-simplification. I rarely see anything in stark black and white, preferring instead to examine the various shades of grey that exist in between two opposing sides. I think that most people and most situations are not only rather complicated, but also usually evolving in new and different ways that defy simple classification. That being said, the older I get, the more I realize that in an increasingly complicated and angry world, there is one very simple rule that almost always applies: treat other people the way that you want them to treat you. (Also known as “The Golden Rule.”)
The issues that we face in our lives, both on a personal and public level, can be unbelievably complex, and often seem overwhelming. And I don’t believe the day is ever coming when good people will always agree on everything, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they happen to be. But I do believe that when we are deciding how to speak to or treat another person, we can just take a minute to ask ourselves, “if this situation were reversed, how would it make me feel? Would I like it if someone spoke that way to me? Would I like it if someone treated me that way?”
Would we be so quick to post that snarky political meme on social media if we took a second to consider how we feel when someone makes fun our our political views? Or worse, makes it clear that they consider everyone who voted the way we did to be either evil, an idiot, or both? Do we like it when someone makes sweeping generalizations about our religion (or lack thereof), especially when the generalizations don’t match what we actually think or believe?
On a more personal level, do we like it when someone vents their anger on us? Do we appreciate it when someone (oh, so helpfully) points out our every single mistake? Do we learn anything when someone else constantly preaches their point of view, and never once asks what we think? Or worse, assumes that they know exactly what we think, and why, and proceeds to tell us how wrong we are? Is it helpful when someone trivializes our fears?
People are complex beings and the opportunities for misunderstanding, hurt, and anger are staggeringly abundant. Our lives are complicated and sometimes our problems are overwhelming. So it seems to me that the simplicity of “The Golden Rule” is a gift to us, and a guide that can help us navigate the storm. We just need to try, as often as possible, to treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves. It won’t solve all our problems, but I honestly believe it would go a long way toward calming the waters for everyone.