Unless you’ve spent your life in complete isolation you will have come face to face with The Golden Rule. This is the basic precept that you should be mindful of other people and behave towards them as you would expect to be treated. It is a testament so old we can discover it in Ancient Greece, “Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him” (Pittacus, c. 640–568 BCE). And it shows up in various religions. It is found in the Hebraic “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). The Christian version attributes the rule to Jesus, “Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). Whilst in Islam, the Prophet Muhammad states, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13). There are various other theistic examples that can be uncovered, in Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, Jainism, Hinduism inter alia. It is often heard in the sage advice of parents, “Treat others the way you’d want them to treat you” (my mum and every other parent ever).
Now we’ve established the frequent recurrence of The Golden Rule, I would ask you to question the reason for its perseverance. Now, we could argue that this is due to the communality of a moral code which binds people together in most major religions. However, I would argue that is borderline between the quixotic and the downright delusional. When you were told this by your caregivers was it because you had behaved as you were supposed to? It wasn’t for me. In fact, it was generally their response to me committing some heinous childhood crime such as sticking a lollipop in my sister’s hair and declaring that I hated her. It is my contention that we don’t have these moral codes because we’re all morally singing off the same hymn sheet, but rather because we are all capable of behaving like a 7 year old picking on her sister, yet often to a larger scale. We only require moral codes when the boundaries are tested. When we see a ridiculous health and safety notice that we cannot fathom the need for, such as “Don’t put your hand in the lion’s cage”, it is invariably because some silly plonker has. So when we see such a pervasive moral code such as The Golden Rule, we can only presume that is because it has frequently been broken.
This brings us to my point in writing this post. I see this basic rule being broken constantly. For example, in the language used against disabled people, not only on the streets, but in the media. The belief that everyone is out to get a motability car and “out of work benefits” has been paraded time and time again by the right wing press to the extent that now the word “disabled” has become synonymous with the accusation of “scrounger”. The result being that people who have had more to cope with in their everyday lives compared to many other people, must now also cope with a culture of disbelief, shaming, and downright hatred. Where was love thy neighbour when in 2011 over 2000 disability related hate crimes were committed? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19589602). Similarly, though overall hate crimes fell in 2011, we have seen the rise of Islamophobia, a religiously inspired intolerance, in our secular country. Organisations such as the EDL or the paper The Daily Mail will tell you they are fighting for traditional, British, Christian morality, but where is the “Do unto others…” in scenes such as this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIr3HV-TuOs ? One would hope that Jesus would not approve of such hatred. But this fear and hatred of Islam is not limited to the far-right, in a YouGov poll 37% of respondents admitted that they would be more politically supportive of a party that aimed to “reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society” (http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/). As another example, whilst we can be happy that our country is becoming “gradually” more progressive in its views of homosexuality: we have at least stopped making it a criminal offence, even if many people are still concerned about some bizarre notion that the nation will be torn asunder should gay couples be allowed to marry, the word “transphobia” has entered our vernacular and is being seen with ever greater frequency, with even some (Rad)feminists getting in on the act. Meanwhile, in other countries, most pertinently right now in Cameroon, a man can be arrested simply for texting to another man “I am very much in love with you” (http://www.allout.org/en/actions/roger/taf ). This poor man, Roger, has spent a year in prison, and faces another two years if his appeal is unsuccessful, simply for daring to express love towards another person- not quite wishing for your brother what you wish for yourself is it?
George Bernard Shaw made an adjustment to The Golden Rule, “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same” (1903). Perhaps Shaw has a point, maybe the problem is that we are treating others the way we would treat ourselves, so that a straight man who would feel uncomfortable with another man declaring his love for him, also feels uncomfortable when it happens between two other men. But even this falls far too short of explaining the forcible reactions against the many variations of “the other”. Fear goes a long way in explaining much of this seven-year-old-girl-picking-on-her-sister mentality. Just as I would pick on my big sister because deep down I feared her, so do the far-right groups who protest against multi-cultural societies. Such is the presence of this fear that attacking “the other” is pretty much normalised within our culture, as can be seen in the title of the BBC show “Saint or Scrounger”. Recession has largely helped to create a climate of fear. There is the worry that all of these disabled “scroungers” are nicking our taxes, or that immigrants are stealing our jobs. This understanding of the potential of fear can be found in the writings of many great minds. Lester B. Pearson said, “Misunderstanding arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace.” This is echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fear always springs from ignorance”, but it is possibly best delineated by Bertrand Russell, “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
If I may be so bold I would like to end this blog by adding my own axiom combining the sentiments of fear and neighbourly love, pertaining to our own time, “Do not fear your neighbour, instead fear he who tells you to hate him”, so pervasive is the message in the right wing media that we should be “on our guard”. Yet, should we not be asking why they are so eager to make scapegoats of our neighbours?