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The Golden Rule, Reformulated

Justice and compassion won't work without humility.

by James Leroy Wilson
December 21, 2010

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The Golden Rule, Reformulated

"There's a special quality to gold which is not generally known. At the molecular level, gold is drawn to itself. It's homophilic. The essence of gold, the metal, is 'self-love.'" - Stan Tenen

The above quote provides insight into why The Golden Rule is called that. The best way to live – the key to "happiness" which is the aspiration of self-love – is to treat others as we would like to be treated.

I came upon the quote after listening to Jan Irvin's Gnostic Media interview with Stan Tenen of the Meru Institute.

Tenen reformulates the Golden rule as two principles:

  • The law of action/reaction (karma)
  • The law of free will that transcends karma)

As I understand him, Tenen speaks as if the law of action/reaction came first, and is illustrated horizontally on a straight line. It is the Golden Rule expressed in the negative sense: do not do to others what is hateful to you. This is justice

The law of transcendence is the idea of "as above, so below" and the idea behind it is forgiveness and generosity: giving without expecting anything in return. That is the Golden Rule expressed in the positive sense of "do unto others as you would want done unto you." This is the law of mercy, forgiveness, and generosity.

Tenen suggests that Judaism is the religion of the first law, the law of the mechanical universe, whereas Christianity is of the second law, the law of transcendence, of free will.

But Tenen then cites the Book of Micah, chapter 6:

6 With what shall I come before the LORD

   and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

   with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

   with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

   And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

   and to walk humbly with your God. (NIV)

Tenen suggests that Islam is the religion that reflects humility. Each of the Abrahamic, monotheistic religions have something to teach us.

During the course of the interview, Tenen also references Pythagoras. Pythagoras is most famous for his theorem: in a triangle with a right angle, the length of the diagonal (hypotenuse) line will be the square root of the sums of the squares of the other two sides. This is best recognized when one side is 3 and the other is 4: the diagonal is 5. The triangle created by the diagonal has an area of 6 square units.

Tenen imagines plotting the law of karma (do not do what if hateful to you) as a horizontal line, and the law of transcendence (free will) vertically.

What popped into my mind was: what if we draw a line of 3 units, and call it "justice." And then draw another line, at a right angle, four units long, and called it "mercy." And then call the hypotenuse "humility." It would be five units long.

I suspect that for the Golden Rule to actually work in practice, we do need approximately. . .

  • Three parts justice, so that we can at least co-exist: respect other people's rights
  • Four parts mercy and generosity: have compassion and respect other people's feelings
  • Five parts humility, to help us discern when justice is appropriate, when mercy or generosity is appropriate, and when it is best to mind our own business

John Wooden expressed this humility as"Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights."

Humility also has political ramifications. Before saying "There ought to be a law!" against this or that supposedly harmful activity, a dose of humility is helpful:

  • How do I know that a law will actually curb this behavior?
  • I may find this behavior disgusting and unhealthy, but are the people engaged in it violating other people's rights?
  • My intentions are good, because I will be saving people from this destructive behavior – but is it really merciful and compassionate to throw them in jail instead?

Without humility, most people who are concerned about justice and compassion may get lost in moral dilemmas. Humility reminds us we might not have all the right answers or can foresee all the consequences.

Humility reminds us that perhaps it's sometimes better to do nothing, and to tolerate the distasteful. Conflict results when people disagree about what is the "right thing" to do. If there really is that strong amount of disagreement, the wise course is also the humble course: respect personal liberty and choice. 

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