The Golden Rule admonishes us to treat one another as we ourselves would like to be treated.
While this is an admirable start, the problem with the Golden Rule is that it asks us to assume that others are drawing on the same body of experiences we have, that they value the things we value and that they enjoy the things we enjoy. However, the diversity of people that we so intentionally honour and affirm in our spaces - those of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual and affectional orientations, and physical and mental abilities - necessarily means that we are dealing with others who are not exactly like us, and who may hold different values and expectations of life and those around them.
It's easy for those who hold the privilege of being considered normal by American society at large to buy into their own normalcy, and to believe that others are mostly like themselves. Because most of them [the privileged] consider themselves to be good people, they generally do good things, and act in good faith.
Except that even the best intentions cannot mitigate the pain of marginalization, and even good people make mistakes that do harm to others. In attempting to treat others as they would wish to be treated - in assuming that others are mostly like themselves – they [the privileged] have overwritten and erased the lived experiences of those they may consider close friends.
This can be a painful thing to hear, particularly when one has had the very best of intentions. It can be easy to retreat into defensiveness, and accusations of oversensitivity or wanting to play the victim. Going that route, however, does further harm to a person who has already been hurt. After all, it takes more than simply the courage of one's convictions to stand up and say, "This has hurt me;" it takes a willingness to make oneself vulnerable, trust that one's pain will be taken seriously, and faith that the relationship is strong enough. Feeling dismissed or invalidated breaks that trust, eschews that faith: and even if later forgiven, it may be very difficult to forget. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice ...
As people of faith, we are called to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and to strive for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. So you see this isn't about political correctness: it's about respect, and living our faith. It's about choosing to trust in the goodness in others and to speak up when we have been hurt, yes, but it's also about listening deeply and with compassion when we are told that we have done harm. It's about exploring and validating each other's experiences, and remaining in community through periods of difficulty; it's about working together to discover and implement ways to truly integrate and make the best of our differences.
We can start by replacing the Golden Rule with what Nehwyr calls the Platinum Rule: that is, to treat others as they wish to be treated.
By doing this, we validate and affirm each other and our experiences, and begin to tread the paths of true equality.
Posted on Fri, April 1, 2011