Monday, 27 August 2012

THE THINKER: Humility, Empathy & the Golden Rule

Golden Rule: The rule or principle of treating others as one wants to be treated (Matt.vii12). From Webster’s Dictionary.

The concept of The Golden Rule is familiar to most and, in varying degrees, a part of the philosophies of many religions and cultures.  In the New Testament’s book of Mathew, Jesus highlights its significance by recognizing it as one of the two most important of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”(Matt 22:39).  In the book of Luke, Jesus re-emphasizes the ancient Judaic rule when he says, “and as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise”(6:31).   Religions such as Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism all admonish this ideal of personal perspective. Yet, even though as an intellectual philosophy The Golden Rule seems simple enough as a habitual behaviour it often alludes.

After World War II, researchers studying the psychology of individuals who aided escaping Jews found that the ability to empathize was a common denominator in the reasoning of persons being interviewed.  It can be argued then that The Golden Rule may extend into action when an individual is able to shift perspective and literally put themselves in to another person’s shoes. The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky examined this in his epic investigation of human behaviour The Brothers Karamazov.  In the section of the book headed From the Discourses and Sermons of Father Zossima, the writer extols the virtue of both the philosophy and its impetus for action by examining the necessary mindset of those who would be a judge of one’s fellow creatures: “Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of anyone. For no one can judge a criminal until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him…”  In this way, Dostoyevsky highlights the humility that must accompany an intellectual understanding of empathy.  Essentially, once the individual can accept a lower opinion of themselves in order to match the perceived position of the other, they can then shift perspective and act from the other’s position. 

“I’ve decided not to talk to perverts anymore….so I’ve even given up inner dialogue.”


  1. As a general theme I find your blog rife with judeo-christian constructs. This leads me to believe you're a southern baptist gentleman obsessed with the imaginary man in the sky.