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"One Simple Rule Fixes All Behavior Problems"

Rachel Coleman
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Rachel Coleman lives with her husband, Autry, in Liberal, Kansas, where they home school their three youngest children.  The couple also has four grown children.  When she’s not reading the classics (for the second time) or learning algebra (for the first), she writes freelance magazine articles and feature stories for the Times (formerly the Southwest Daily Times) of Liberal, where her award-winning weekly column has appeared for 12 years.  Rachel studied journalism at Central College of McPherson, KS and Trinity College of Deerfield, IL.  She is thankful God has provided a way for her to work and raise a family at home.  Her aim is the same as that of the family’s home school:  “A heart for God;  whole-hearted in all endeavors.”


Quick, tell me the Golden Rule. Is it: a.) Everything that can go wrong, will; b.) Nice guys finish last;  c.) Do to others as you would have them do to you; or, d.) Silence is golden?

 

This week, I was amazed to hear a firsthand account of what social conservatives mean when they say American culture has drifted too far from its Christian origins.  A friend who works at an average job in an average workplace mentioned the Golden Rule to coworkers and drew a total blank — from more than one person. When we talked about it later, she said it “blew her mind” to see incomprehension followed by a laughing, “you’ve got to be kidding!” attitude.

 

“My motto,” someone said, “is ‘I’m gonna get mine before anybody else can take it away.’”

 

That attitude is not unusual; it’s also not the Golden Rule. If you guessed “c.” you’re correct. In Luke 6:31, Jesus said it like this: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” That’s the good old King James version, but as a kid, I was required to memorize it this way: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Mothers have been known to interpret the rule this way: “Would you like it if your brother came and cut all the hair off your doll, young lady? No? Then you better leave that toy of his alone. I mean it!” That’s the good old EPV — Exasperated Parent Version.

 

The original command spoken by Christ was more positive. He didn’t forbid people to do bad things like blame a coworker for a mistake, or eat a sibling’s cookies (there we are in the EPV again). Instead, he encouraged us to look for ways to help the people around us. Love others, even your enemies, he said. Do good to folks who hate you. Bless people who curse you. Rather than trying to beat them to the punch, pray for the ones who “despitefully use you.”

 

This is tough stuff when you apply it to everyday life: say, in the parking lot — you’re in a hurry and someone zips into the spot you aimed to claim — or at home — your husband dozes off just as you get to the main point, leaving you to clean the kitchen and put the kids to bed. Bless them? Do good to him? Me? If that sounds unrealistic, you probably don’t want to think about work and business dealings, where, unfortunately, many of us feel overworked, underpaid or just plain cheated at some point or other. 

 

The idea of following a better way with a pure heart is no small thing to wrestle with in moments of discouragement and frustration. I’ve always viewed it as an interior struggle rather than a public behavior campaign. It’s not my job as a follower of Christ to straighten out the unrighteous; it’s hard enough to keep my own heart clean. There’s also the fact that the same one who gave us the Golden Rule warned us to be merciful, judge not and condemn not.

 

Besides, I’ve always felt a little detached from the public-political debates about morals. I don’t like the terms “religious right” or “fundamentalist” or “theocrat” or “Christian conservative.” Labels miss the point, and so do many of the loudest commentators. I agree that immorality seems to continually dig deeper to set ever lower standards. The loudest and most brazen public examples of the Golden Rule rejected might be reality shows like “Survivor,” in which trickery and betrayal are portrayed as admirable.

 

But this is nothing new. All you have to do to understand this is to read honest accounts from various points in history — the roaring ’20s in America, the court of Louis XIV in pre-Revolutionary France, the Romans, the Greeks, the Babylonians … and how about some of those Old Testament Israelites? Hollywood hasn’t come up with anything distinctly new, however shocking it might seem to some. Of course, most of those civilizations have crumbled to dust. America might follow suit if we continue to raise generations of people who can’t tell the difference between the Golden Rule and a commercial for expensive beer.

 

My friend’s story unraveled my comfortable layer of detachment a bit. The idea that a fair number of reasonably educated American adults are unfamiliar with the Golden Rule alarmed me. The Christian notions of self-sacrifice, kindness and service are at the heart of the society we take for granted. America offers every man, woman and child a chance to enjoy an abundance of God-given rights; even people whose income falls below the government poverty line have a real chance to improve their lot in life, something slum dwellers worldwide can’t even imagine. Citizens of other countries long for what we enjoy simply by virtue of having been born in the United States. Yet a system with this kind of liberty lasts only as long as the majority holds true to values that temper our innate selfishness.

 

What will happen if it becomes standard practice for everybody to look out for Number One instead of “doing unto others?” What sort of community would you inhabit? How would you feel walking down the street in your neighborhood? What about home? Would it be sweet or full of conflict? Who would take care of the old and infirm, the unfortunate and the heartbroken? 

 

This town I call home is not a perfect place, but one of the things that prompted me stay here to raise my family is its generous spirit. When someone’s house burns down, people offer hugs, elbow grease and donations. If cancer is diagnosed, spaghetti suppers and garage sales offset the crushing medical bills and create a sense of hope. A fatal accident leaves the entire community mourning along with the bereaved family. All this is the Golden Rule in action.

 

Perhaps it’s time to set aside overly polite silence and venture out a bit. Those of us who know it when we see it should be willing to do a little show and tell with the Golden Rule. It doesn’t have to be preachy or pompous. It doesn’t even have to be King James-style.

 

The Message Bible in contemporary language tags Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 7 with the phrase “A Simple Guide for Behavior.” Christ said, “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the
initiative and do it for them!”  

 

If you passed the test, take it on yourself to tutor someone else. That’s the Golden Rule way.

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