Saturday, December 31, 2005

Tub time and the Golden Rule

I had an insight this evening about Jesus' dictum to treat others they way we want to be treated. My two little ones (Satya and Kuruna) were playing in the tub. Kuruna kept pulling Satya's hair with the predictable response: Satya would scream "Mom! Tell him to stop!" I would come in and say don't take his toys and Kuruna won't have reason to pull your hair.
After a few more episodes of this sort, I told them, you're on your own.
When I popped around the corner to grab some laundry out of the dryer, I heard a huge splash. Satya had dumped water over Koreans 2 year old head. He was too befuddled to cry. "Satya, don't do that!" I insisted. "How is that any different than his pulling your hair? You must treat Kuruna as you want to be treated." There was Jesus coming out of my Buddhist mouth.
I noticed, however, that Kuruna seemed to actually be enjoying himself, drenched. Satya noticed, too. "But Mom (she says this like "Mah-um") He's not crying."
"O.K." I said. "When you are playing with him, be sure to watch how he is reacting, so you know whether he is enjoying it or not."
The Golden Rule no longer translated to "be nice so others will be nice to you." That's how it had always been defined to me (Ok, "nice" could be kind, compassionate, patient...insert virtue here).
Perhaps we have it all wrong. Perhaps the Golden Rule is not a command, but a formula. Treat others as you would have them treat you, means: figure out how you want others to act towards you and instruct them by example. In that way, you are more likely to have enjoyable interactions with others. If you like to hear compliments, give them. If you enjoy having the door held for you, hold the door for others. Even, perhaps, if you enjoy having water dumped on your head, dump water on others' heads? hmmm.
Well, I guess that's the audience participation part of the formula that is not so explicitly laid out in the New Testament. The key to my theory is that the "other" has to be an attentive observer. If my husband tickles my feet (which I HATE!) is that because he loves having his feet tickled? Yes. If he buys me presents every time he thinks of me, is that because he hopes I will do the same. Well, actually, yes.
Now I recognize we are getting into territory that would make psychologists' hair stand on end. Am I advocating that we attempt to read other's minds by how they treat us? No. Yes.
No, because the people we interact with are most likely NOT participating. The Golden Rule or anything like it are furthest from their minds. They are for the most part unaware of anything they do. They act automatically. So, there's not much point in trying to interpret their actions as instruction.
Yes because I do think it possible for mindful people to instruct others by example. Watch any good mother with her young children and you will see what I mean. Not only will she tell her little ones to say thank you or please, to look both ways before crossing the street, to clean up their messes; she will do it as well. She has thought about how she wants them to act in the world and is demonstrating it.
And, finally yes, because everyone, no matter how unaware, can teach us something. At the very least, they can remind us to keep listening and watching our own actions and what we are teaching others about how to treat us.

2 comments:

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