“Your problem is you spent your whole life thinking there are rules.
We used to be gorillas.
All we had is what we could take and defend.” – Lorne Malvo – Fargo TV Series Season01 Episode01
Even if you are a religious person and believe there is a set of commands for you to follow this concept still applies. The point here is that you don’t HAVE TO do anything. Life is only made up of decisions, consequences, and the rest is uncontrollable circumstance.
There is one rule that is almost universally accepted world wide and that is the Golden Rule which states: “Treat others the way you would want to be treated”. Almost all religions and moral codes of conduct are generally based on the golden rule, here are a few examples from 4 of the largest religions in the world:
mathew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
surah 24 v22 “…and you should forgive And overlook: Do you not like God to forgive you? And Allah is The Merciful Forgiving.”
Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8) “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires”
Sutta Nipata 705 “Comparing oneself to others in such terms as “Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I,” he should neither kill nor cause others to kill.”
So no matter who you are and what religion you belong to if any, the primary thing that should guide your moral decisions in life is to treat others as you would want to be treated. Almost all the rules in all the religions of the world are based on this simple concept. Even this advice is not a rule, although many would say it is a human responsibility, you can do whatever you want, you can treat everyone terribly, and simply deal with the consequences.
A Better Golden Rule
There is a better form of the golden rule that I have heard in a few places and i’m not sure why its not more popular. The better version is to not only treat others the way you would want to be treated, but to treat others the way they would want to be treated. We are all unique human beings and we desire unique things, so why not aim to simply improve the quality of other people lives, even if you’re not doing something for them that you yourself would want.
The Complex Implications
Does this mean we should give our children whatever junk food they want, or stay in a romantic relationship with someone just because it makes them happy, NO! The complexities of acting on the golden rule are a huge part of what it means to be human. We need to weigh everything such as: short term affects, long term affects, who is affected, in what ways are they affected, how am I affected. The golden rule is stated simply but acting on it is anything but simple.
Knowing What You Know Now Does Not Make It Easier
Realizing that the golden rule is the basis for most religious and moral foundations doesn’t really change much, you still have to make all the difficult decisions that you have to make during life. Actually now that you know how to build your own moral foundation you actually have to make more decisions than you would have had to make before. Here’s an example: lets say you were always taught that giving illegal drugs to children is wrong. Generally it is wrong based on the golden rule because it could be dangerous to alter the mental state of a perfectly healthy child. But what if your child comes down with a serious illness that as far as you know can only be helped by an illegal drug such as marijuana. Situations like this have happened to people, its not a fictitious scenario. Someone who is simply a rule follower may decide not to use the drugs, and that persons child would be in more pain than they have to. Someone who realizes rules don’t exist, only decisions and consequences, has the freedom to choose whatever they want, they just have to deal with the consequences (good or bad).
A Few Exceptions
There are some cultural and religious principals that don’t seem to be based on the golden rule. A few examples are the opposition to homosexuality, and the generally unfair treatment of women in some religions and cultures.
All we can do to improve the situation of this world is to use our god given minds to build our own moral foundation which is truly built on the principal of treating others how we want to be treated, or more importantly treating others the way they want to be treated. Actually even more importantly, treating others in a way that will improve their lives and lead to more happiness if possible. We have no literal obligation to follow the golden rule, but if we do, it could lead to more happiness for ourselves and those around us.