The greatest trait of the human mind is our capability to feel empathy. Because of our ability to imagine and share the feelings of others we are gifted the experiences of compassion, kindness, selflessness, forgiveness and respect—human traits revered the world over.
Every moral convention, whether it be religious, societal, or psychological or philosophical school has some version of The Golden Rule [The Ethic of Reciprocity] It transcends culture and faith and is based on an understanding of empathy. Christians believe, “do unto others as you would have done unto you;” in Islamic teachings, the Qur’an says, “wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself,” Judaism has, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Hinduism has the rule of dharma. Buddhism, karma. There are versions of the same in Taoism, Confucianism, Existentialism, Humanism as well as in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
Why It Matters What Others Feel?
One school of thought is that there is a collective conscious. That we are all one, connected either through thought or spirit. The belief is that we are not perfectly singular entities but rather are influenced by some unifying force that connects us to each other. The Gaia Hypothesis suggests the world is a singular living organism in which we are part. Hermeticism has the Principle of Mentalism: all is mind, the universe is mental.
Even the most practical, scientific minds among us should not dismiss the notion of oneness. Quantum theories like Entanglement Theory suggest a connection between particles that remains even when disjointed. “In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances.” Chaos Theory demonstrates how a small, seemingly insignificant, change of state can cause a significant result somewhere else. We’re all familiar with the example of a butterfly beating its wings leading to a series of events that causes a hurricane on the other side of the world (The Butterfly Effect). Oneness isn’t a concept reserved just for mystics.
If we are indeed one, then treating each other as we would want others to treat us is necessary for our own survival. To turn against another would be to become cancer ourselves, acting out in opposition to our own body.
The Silver Rule
“Although it isn’t possible to know what it really feels like to be a different person or live in different circumstances and have different life experiences, it isn’t difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering and to try to avoid causing suffering to others.”
– Maria MacLachlan of Think Humanism
The Ethic of Reciprocity has two forms. The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated, and The Silver Rule: Don’t treat others in a way you would not want to be treated. Both are true and good but the latter has a negative syntax and does not quite live up to the same noble code of conduct. It’s true. We should not hurt others. The Wiccan Reed, the code of conduct for many Pagans and most Wiccans says, “’an ye harm none do as ye will.”
Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues of the Indian religions of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The concept of Ahimsa is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.
Because we understand suffering, we do not want to cause suffering in others. But shouldn’t we take it a step further? If we understand the goodness of love, we should want to give love…we should strive to cause joy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a theist or not. The great question is why are we here? What is our purpose? If all of humanity, for all of recorded history has understood the value of the Golden Rule, perhaps it plays a part in our ultimate purpose. Perhaps it is not enough to denounce harm. Perhaps we ought to think of love as a verb. We ought to love, actively. ∞