We have paired Angel and Craig’s collaborative essay with a 1.5 minute clip we found while searching our archives, which features Gentle World’s co-founder Sun, talking about how her understanding of The Golden Rule helped to inspire and deepen her own transition to veganism, back in 1970.
The Golden Rule
by Craig Cline
When we were young, our parents helped most of us learn the difference between right and wrong.
Our parents also taught us that what was “wrong” was generally about immorality, injustice, illegality, impropriety, and the common bad (to coin a new phrase).
As we grew up, and our thought processes matured, we became better able to understand what the word “wrong” meant. By dictionary definition:
“An unjust, injurious, or immoral act or circumstance; an invasion or violation of another’s rights.”
The universally known and respected Golden Rule comes to mind.
Essentially, the Golden Rule is a moral and ethical precept which instructs people to behave toward others as they would have others behave toward them.
Over two billion followers of the Christian faith give the rule that particular name. However, the concept underlying the name is embraced by all the world’s major religions, so the beauty of its message is known to over five billion people.
And while the Golden Rule is generally associated with religion, it’s important to note that a person need not be religious in order to practice it. This is a maxim that is indeed universally applicable.
According to Wikipedia, the “Golden Rule” was presented by Jesus “as a valid summary for the entirety of moral law.” For Christians, the Golden Rule springs from Matthew 7:12 in the Bible, where we find this reading:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
What could be better than to make this ideal a reality?
The philosopher and physician Maimonides Moses is quoted as having said: “Do not do to others what is hateful to you.” This phrase adds even an extra dimension.
Notice that the word “others” is commonly taken to mean other humans — other people — regardless of their color, creed, religion, national origin, and so on.
In examining that word, we note that “others” are likely to be of a different character or quality from ourselves. However, their difference from us does not mean that we are entitled to treat them differently from how we ourselves expect to be treated.
Now let’s take another step, and see that the word “others,” as contained in The Golden Rule, can and should include all members of what we call the animal kingdom, scientifically known as Animalia.
Other animals are both similar to us and different from us; just as people are similar to each other, yet different. They are, in a sense, kindred spirits, with needs and desires that are fundamentally similar to those of the human beings we call people. And so, we should treat them as we ourselves would want to be treated.
Instead, at least so far in human history, even religious people have leaned on the presumption that “Man” has dominion over the animals — that we can control them, and by extension, treat them however we choose, no matter how much we besmirch the Golden Rule in so doing.
It should be clear that a higher-and-better measure of “Mankind” can spring from being Golden-Rule-guided in our behavior towards all beings. Since we humans wouldn’t ourselves willingly suffer any such abusive afflictions, imposing them upon our non-human counterparts violates the very spirit of the Golden Rule, whether we cause these afflictions directly or indirectly.
There are billions upon billions of nonhuman animals enslaved and subjugated by “Man” and made to endure living hell in the ghastly process. Common sense holds that other animals would — if they only could — implore us to refrain from making them the victims of the cruelty, abuse, pain, suffering, and premature death to which we subject them.
We do not have to (and ought not to) be a part of that process. We can instead choose to reject it, by following the essence of our own conscience and applying The Golden Rule to all creatures great and small in our interactions with them. To do otherwise is to participate in speciesism, a prejudice which affects non-human animals even more adversely than racism affects us as humans.
Let’s now introduce the word “ahimsa,” defined as “a doctrine of nonviolence expressing belief in the sacredness of all living creatures, strictly practiced by Jains and affirmed by Buddhists and Hindus.”
These belief systems are grounded in the teaching “that all life is one and sacred, resulting in the principle of nonviolence towards all living creatures.”
One last word for consideration is “anima,” defined as “the soul.” This definition is akin to that of the word “spirit” — “the animating force within all living beings.”
I find it very interesting that the word anima is in fact related to the word animal. In light of this definitional relationship, we can agree that ALL animals, both human and non-human, have an innate spirit. Such a spirit could be called a soul.
Some people may take the position that non-human animals don’t have souls like those we humans presume ourselves to have. Whether they do or not doesn’t matter.
We know that non-human animals are sentient, like us; that they, like us, have sensory perceptions and their own form of consciousness.
Because ALL living beings have an animating force, it’s clear that all of us — whether we’re human or non-human — have spirit, defined as “that which is traditionally believed to be the vital principle or animating force within living beings.”
We humans can, of our own free will, choose to evolve to a higher and better spiritual path on our life’s journey. This path would truly be in accord with the “law” of the Golden Rule and with the divinely based morality and ethicality that underlie it.
The higher-and-better path would simply have us extend the Golden Rule precept to ALL sentient beings, both humans and non-humans alike. Anyone — everyone — everywhere — can direct his/her own personal walk-of-life along this path.
It is abundantly clear that the way of living which causes the least amount of needless suffering and death is one that relies on plants rather than other sentient animals to meet our needs.
It is easier now than ever before in history to evolve in this way, especially given the tremendous array of vegan choices — wholesome alternatives to the horrific cruelty and suffering that underlie the production of all animal-based products.
In an ideal world, humanity would be guided by the precept that all life is sacred — and that all life deserves to live free from the threat of, or the act of, violence.
In an ideal world, we humans would not participate, either directly or indirectly, in violence towards other humans, or towards other non-humans.
In an ideal world, people would live — rightfully — as vegans.
And so, I propose adopting a contemporary version of the Golden Rule; one that’s essentially all-encompassing and applicable in virtually all situations:
“Do for all others, both directly and indirectly, what you would want done for you.”
“Don’t do to any others, either directly or indirectly, what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
Very simple — very expansive — very beneficial — very powerful.
Jackie DeShannon had it right when she sang these lyrics over 50 years ago:
“What the world needs now,
Is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now,
Is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.”
In theology, love can be defined as:
- God’s benevolence and mercy toward man;
b. Man’s devotion to or adoration of God; or
c. the benevolence, kindness, or brotherhood that man should rightfully feel toward others.
Of course, when Jackie sang the word “everyone,” she meant people.
The meaning of the word “everyone” can, however, be interchanged with the word “everybody,” literally every body.
Note that the word “body” goes beyond humans to also include the non-human animals — as is properly the case.
Two final revisions to our definition of love: the insertion of the word “compassion” after the word “kindness,” and the insertion of the words “and practice” after the word “feel.”
So what do we wind up with under our modified definition of theological love?
“The benevolence, kindness, compassion, or brotherhood that man should rightfully feel, and practice, toward everybody (every body).”
We can all heighten our human experience by making it a humane experience. In fact, the word “humane” is derived from the word “human.” To be humane means “having the good qualities of human beings, as kindness, mercy, or compassion.”
The word “humanity” is also so derived, and one of its definitions is “the quality of being humane; benevolence; kindness; mercy.”
Note how very closely the human qualities of being humane and having humanity tie in with the theological definition of love.
Also note that these qualities are the very ones that underlie the principle of the Golden Rule.
What does this mean in terms of our common human experience?
It means, as the spiritual beings we are, that we should all be Humane Humans. All of us should live our lives in accordance with the hallowed law we’ve come to know as our “Golden Rule.”
It doesn’t matter whether or not we are religious in the conventional sense.
What does matter is that we join together in walking on our higher-and-better path — the one that leads us towards a more peaceful life for all.
It’s this path the world needs now. Will you walk it with me?