Variants of the golden rule

There are different versions of basic ethical principles that are common across cultures, and may have roots in the evolutionary advantage of cooperation.

The famous New Testament version is “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” A Talmudic version has a subtle, but notable difference, “what is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” The difference may relate to differing attitudes toward proselytizing. Someone who would want to have been converted to Christianity would offer the same benefit to others. By contrast, someone who would prefer not to be proselytized would recommend against inflicting others with one’s beliefs.

In many situations, I like the Wiccan version of the golden rule, “do as ye will an ye harm none.” The cautionary clarification is that “harm none” includes the self – so practices that are pleasurable but self-destructive would be discouraged.

There’s another variant that I wish existed but haven’t seen anywhere. “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” This assumes that what the other person wants may be different from what you want, and encourages you to treat them as they would wish to be treated. The other ones are easier, the roots of empathy and avoiding harm are found in one’s own feelings – this one requires reflecting on how another’s wants are different.

Wikipedia has a whole catalog of cross-cultural variants, here. What do you think?

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