At least on paper, the Golden Rule is wonderfully simple: Treat others as you would like them to treat you. I’ve been thinking about this maxim quite a bit lately, mainly because we have been working through The Sermon on the Mount in our daily chapel services. Many cultures throughout history have had some version of the Golden Rule, all grouped under the philosophical construct called The Ethic of Reciprocity. It’s a clear enough directive, and it should be easy to follow. That’s why teachers so often invoke some variation of it when creating their classroom culture. Of course, human nature interferes with the execution. And that’s why, as is usually the case with any of Jesus’ teaching (even if this sermon is more direct than most, at least on the surface), some key points remain unsaid.
The grammatical structure of the rule puts the onus on the subject. You. As Tom Peters points out, “The thing about the Golden Rule is, the first move is yours.” In every encounter you can set the tone; you can determine the level of discourse. You can attempt to make every encounter as positive as possible in the circumstances.
Achieving this necessitates an addition to the Golden Rule. It has to be more than treating others as you would like to be treated. Think about how you would like to be treated if you were the other person in that particular situation. Otherwise, it verges on narcissism. Mastering the Golden Rule requires empathy.
Schools have ever-expanding curricula to deliver, each program being vital to a young person’s holistic development. We’re demanding that kids achieve more at younger ages. At the same time, we must not forget that education must remain a human—and, I hope, humane—endeavor. Otherwise, we risk creating a generation who, to use one of my wife’s favorite sayings, may make straight As and flunk life.