Modified on: May 1, 2019

In her brilliant TED talk on compassion, renowned scholar of the history of religions, Karen Armstrong, asserts that the core teaching of each of the world’s religions is simply this: “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.”

This can be stated many ways, but its meaning is evident. “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” I remind my children each day as they head off to school.

The trick is, once I have thus admonished them, will I do so myself? What makes this way of life so difficult is that we are both its standard and subject. Steven Pinker raises the bar still higher with what he calls the Platinum Rule, further underscoring the importance of acting with regard for one another: “Do to others what they would have you do to them.”

It is beautiful when people choose to do this. Even more, it is beautiful that it works.

With registration now exceeding 40 children, our RE program has wrestled with how to provide a learning environment for our children each Sunday while simply helping them fit comfortably and peaceably together in one space. More children means more different children, all of whom bring their personalities and their backgrounds into the room with them. Some of our children are differently-abled, adding to the complexities of a setting that strives for diversity to not mean divisiveness.

I have witnessed a team form to support these children and their families. Rather than chastise unruly behavior, child development professionals in our congregation have joined together to bring their expertise to bear in order to help children with diagnosed disabilities, relieving environmental stressors and coaching new behaviors. RE staff and volunteers have reorganized their work to help all of our children learn how to interact in ways that are respectful and productive for everyone in the classroom.

All of this is premised on the question, “What would I want to have happen if I were that child?” Pinker’s science and Armstrong’s theology fuse to create a strategy that is both practical and aspirational—treating one another with the respect and kindness we desire for ourselves eases tension, opens us to forgiveness, and builds trust. And trust is the life of any community.

Pinker’s book is Enlightenment Now; Armstrong’s TED talk is entitled “A Charter for Compassion“. But the real resource for this way of living is ourselves. We ask:

“If I were living in these circumstances, how would I want to be treated?”

And then we act.


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