One of the most commonly heard phrases in our household, due to a propensity towards heated arguments recently, is “do unto others as you would have done to you.” But what does this really mean to us in our daily lives?
First of all, the original quote is a command based on the words of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the mount, and is a central teaching in Christianity, often referred to as the Golden Rule.
Matthew 7:12 “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
Luke 6:31 “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
This commandment is stated in similar ways across many ancient religious books: The New Testament, the Talmud, the Koran, as well as the Analects of Confucius and in the writings of Socrates.
In other words, you should treat other people with the same concern and kindness as you would like them to treat you.
But how well do we actually apply this in daily life?
I often struggle with the idea that I want to be good role model, not just to my children, but to others around me. That doesn’t mean being ‘perfect’, but more about being real and living in integrity.
For years, this has been one of my goals and although it will be an ongoing journey it has certainly raised some interesting questions about my ability to communicate in parenting, marriage, and friendships.
I feel that in life, “do unto others” is fundamental to our understanding of ourselves as a whole human being (physically, emotionally, spiritually) and in our relationships with other people.
As I grow older, I am definitely getting better at stopping myself from saying or doing things which I know may hurt another person, whether intentionally or not. I take the time to consider how best to phrase something or ask a particular question. The more emotional the situation, the harder it can be to do that. However, it is definitely becoming easier, the more I try, to hold back from saying something spiteful or non-constructive in an argument with either my husband or my children. But how conscious are we of living our lives this way?
I know how it feels to want to punish or hurt someone for something they did to you. The idea of ‘mercy’ or ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ seems difficult when I stubbornly want to lash out with a nasty hurtful comment in retaliation. But as I have experienced all too often, lashing out can cause much more damage to myself and others than if I had considered how I would feel if someone did or said what I was about to do or say, and how I could better get my point across without heading down that path.
It is something I have been thinking about for a while, particularly in reference to something my husband raised with me regarding what he felt I needed to work on in our marriage: Communication. In particular the way I say things. Whilst I like to be quite direct and open about what I am thinking or feeling, sometimes the way I deliver the message is not so easy for him to hear.
I teach interpersonal communication skills as a course and have studied communication and communication styles for a few years now. Therefore, I stubbornly thought that I was good at communication and so why should I change what I was saying to make it easier for him when he was the one not behaving in a way I needed him to behave. But, it wasn’t about that. It was, I realised, about communicating my message in such a way that he could ‘hear’ it. When I had worked that out, communication became a lot easier.
One thing I have learned is that in applying this commandment “Do unto others..” in our lives, is not about backing down from saying something that needs to be said, and therefore building resentment, but about finding ways to communicate it such that the other feels your compassion and love for them.
It is about finding a compromise in communication that works for both parties. It is not about never really saying what I mean, but about considering how I would feel if it was said in the way I was going to say it. There are ways to be assertive and say what needs to be said without heading into the realms of aggressive or passive aggressive behaviour. It is this that I have come to learn and apply as I move forward on my journey.
I also want my children to learn this… but it isn’t an easy one to teach. However, perhaps raising awareness that this is something I am working on is enough of a glimpse for them to start to understand and perhaps emulate as the years go by. It certainly took me a long time to understand the difference between standing in my power as a whole human being and not speaking up when I should in fear of hurting someone elses feelings. This is what it means for me to “Do unto others as I would have them do to me.” Compromise, compassion and empathy.
Children don’t generally start to understand empathy or demonstrate it well into their teens, but starting to raise their awareness of this as a key commandment in their lives is, for me, as important, if not more so, than teaching them manners (please and thank you). Constant repetition is necessary for them to start to grasp and apply as they walk on their journey through life. I hope for them and others I come across on my daily journey, that this is something that becomes important and conscious for them. This is in some small way my use to others.
As a constant reminder, we created “Our Family Rules” – a chalk board with the most important rules to live our lives by in our household. They are:
Do to others as you would for yourself
Love your neighbour as yourself
Help each other
Tidy up after yourself
Use kind words and soft voices
Hands are not for hurting – they are for loving, tickling and writing…
Tell the Truth
Do your best always
Do the right thing, not the best thing for you
These were important to us as a family. ‘Rules’ sounds like commandments or orders but for us this was an easy way to remember the agreement we made to one another to try to live in harmony with one another. They are for all of us – not just the children – rules by which to live our lives. But this is always a work in progress…
How do you apply “Do unto others” in your daily lives? How have you found applying it in your life and what challenges or joys has remembering it brought about?
I would love to hear your feedback and encourage your to share your stories on what this means for you in your relationships with your family and friends.