The Golden Rule
‘Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.’
-Confucius, c. 560 BCE
‘The Golden Rule’ is the name given to the belief that you should treat others as you’d like to be treated. It’s a principle that’s easy to work out independent of any instruction, command, or advice from parents or authority figures.
This may sound difficult, but actually, most of us do this all the time without thinking about it. Many people, religious and non-religious, live according to ‘the Golden Rule’.
In fact, throughout history, different societies and religions have come up with different versions of the Golden Rule again and again. These examples of the Golden Rule may be worded differently, but they all express the same universal principle.
‘None of you truly believes, until he wishes for his brothers what he wishes for himself.’
–Quran, c. 630 CE
The Golden Rule requires kindness and care for the less fortunate, because that is what we would want in their situation, and it discourages actions like lying and theft because no one would like to be lied to or to have their property stolen. It is simple and clear, and works well in practice.
Religions do have lots of other rules and customs that emphasise the differences between themselves and non-believers, but it is not a coincidence that they have all come up with their own version of ‘the Golden Rule’. Humanists see this as a sign of our common humanity – we are all social animals, and can imagine that what is painful or unpleasant for us will also be painful or unpleasant for those around us. Humanists think this rule comes from our human instinct to care for one another, and not from any particular religion. And it’s a great starting point for working together to build a better world.
‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you.’
-Bible, c. 80 CE
We can apply this concern for the welfare of others to anyone, whether they’re our family, our neighbours, or complete strangers on the other side of the planet. We can also apply empathy to non-human animals, because we know they can feel pain and suffer too, and so deserve to be treated humanely and with kindness.
‘Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.