Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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When Will We Ever Learn? Some Suggestions!



                                                             WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?  Some Suggestions!


You may recall Pete Seeger singing this beautiful song. If you’re not that old, you can still find the song and learn to sing it. Today you can bring the message of this song into your heart and make a resolution to change your life for the better.  There are many serious problems in the world today, but they could be solved if we would all pay attention to the issue I’m going to discuss in this article.


My resolution to discuss this issue today started with my thoughts while reading the Chatham County Chatlist.  In addition to the many helpful announcements, discussions on the Chatlist also reveal the myriad perceptions of our neighbors. Some call for peace and concern for others. They call for compassion, sweetness and light, positive social changes. Many write to help others find assistance. Others clearly live in an attack mode. They only seem to care about themselves. Some seem to admire money and power no matter how destructive these forces can be to other people, the environment or the world. Worse, some seem to thrive on hateful and destructive thoughts.  Some attack and make fun of the poor or minority groups. People who disagree with them are called out as “nut cakes.” Many people just don’t want to get involved. They lead lives centered only on their day to day activities without apparent concern for the greater reality around them.


But of course Chatham County is only a small part of a much larger world. Chatham County still has many amenities and a positive lifestyle not available to many of the citizens of this world. The world view is much more problematic. When I look at the world today and think about the suffering, poverty and wars, it scares me and hurts my heart. Increasingly the population of even this country is living “hand to mouth” with too many forced to subsist below the poverty level even when they work full time.  Our country has been fortunate lately that war has not crossed into our borders. A look at the news, however, shows that wars continue all over the globe.  We ourselves are contributors to continual warfare, sending soldiers and drones into the killing fields around the world.  Our environment is being compromised and destroyed, with the greenery, lands and oceans of our natural habitat becoming increasingly polluted and animal populations decimated. 


But I’m not writing to bring doom and gloom. I’m here to describe two pathways out of this morass. We can find a much better existence here if we would put down our disagreements, stop twittering away our time and begin to live in love and through our hearts.


The first pathway out of these problems is the Golden Rule.  Of course you’ve heard of the Golden Rule and maybe think you know all about it. But don’t stop reading! You can improve your life every day if you learn how to practice this precept. When you do, others will follow your example. And ultimately we will all find ourselves guided toward the life of true happiness that we all deserve.


The Golden Rule predates all of us. Why aren’t we following this simple guideline? We can actually trace it to year 1300BC: older than we are for sure! “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18,Tanakh.)      This simple and straightforward precept has constituted a part of all civilizations and religions. I’ll mention a few examples and then let you think about them to demonstrate the power and longevity of this guideline for righteous living. 


In ancient China, “If people regarded other people’s families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself.” (Mozi)


In ancient Egypt, “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” (Papyrus, Late. Period.)


In ancient Greece, “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.” (Thales)


In ancient Rome, “Expect from others what you did to them.” (Seneca).


The teachings of Jesus went beyond the negative thought of not doing to others what you would not want done to yourself but on to the positive concept that you should LOVE your neighbor as yourself.


In other words, the Golden Rule is a way of living with others following the principles of reciprocity: you should treat others as you would like them to treat you; and you should not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated. As you think this through, you realize the importance of empathy, living in this world not as an isolated being but as a part of a larger community of beings, a part of the greater whole of life.


I hope you continued reading this article and did not stop.  You will get nowhere thinking that this is boring and you know all this already. When you think about the Golden Rule and then make it an active part of your life, you will actually find yourself on the path to eternal happiness. I’m not overstating this point. The way we live in this world will be repeated in our eternal life. Our behavior and practices here are but an introduction to life we will find beyond the stars. You will find the Golden Rule in heaven when you get there.  I don’t mean that every day here and now in this world will be wonderfully happy for you. But you will find increasing satisfaction with your own integrity and the positive responses from others. Meanwhile, unfortunately, there is little emphasis today upon the Golden Rule and major emphasis upon competition and negative comparisons with others. Your human mind may feel satisfaction when you outsmart others or when you put someone in their place, or prove how clever you are to outfox others or when you earn financial wealth and privilege over others you consider inferior. Yes these behaviors are endemic today. But when you find yourself thinking or acting this way, ask yourself are you really happy? Are you finding deep satisfaction in your life? Are you approaching your eternal future with positive anticipation? I’m not quoting Scripture; I’m talking about your quantum future. Energy can never be destroyed. Your energy will live forever even after your body ceases to exist. You might want to choose whether you want to anticipate a positive or negative energy for your future.


The essence of practicing the Golden Rule is to understand your feelings and reactions to life. Whether you read books or use your imagination, you are the only person you really know inside and out. To follow the Golden Rule toward the good life, always think how situations would make you feel. In other words: if I would like others to behave in this way to me, then I should consider behaving in this way to others. After you think it through, you will develop a habit pattern of consideration toward others. A simple example. If I smile at others and behave in a friendly manner, I will feel happier and more likely to see others smile back at me. Now substitute the word “”frown” for “smile” in that sentence and you should get the message. I frown at the world and the world frowns back at me.


Do you experience your world as hostile and uncaring? Possibly this is due to the manner in which you treat others. The best way you can test this is to change your behavior by trying a positive approach. If your approach is genuine you will be more likely to experience a positive change in your relationship with others. Will this always work? Will your positive behavior toward others always result in positive reciprocal behavior? Not always. Only if everyone else is following the Golden Rule. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone reading this article would suddenly start behaving in this manner? Realistically, we cannot expect 100% satisfaction, although you will find that most people do respond in kind. (Think of that word in that expression “in kind.”).


It may help you along the pathway to positive caring social behavior to consider the rewards of developing Altruism as a lifestyle. Positive behavior begets more positive behavior. Even if you begin with a grudging acceptance of a plan to develop more altruistic social behavior, you will find you will begin treating yourself also in a more positive manner. You will end up loving yourself in an altruistic, not selfish manner.  The difference between pure Altruism and Golden Rule-based behavior is treating others in a positive manner without any expectation of reciprocity or compensation.  Whatever the basis, prosocial positive behavior and kindness toward others will result in your own greater life satisfaction, more positive mental and physical health as well as longevity. Feeling and acting in a kind and caring manner actually enhances your subjective feelings of personal happiness. Happier people are also kinder, in a reciprocal manner. All of these findings are well established in psychological research. 


At this point you may be thinking about the way that you behave toward other people. Most likely you are thinking about people you encounter daily or frequently. Hopefully you are thinking about ways in which you can develop or maintain positive altruistic behavior toward others. But we are also citizens of this world. Even if you try to avoid the news media, you still know that many people are suffering around the world. Furthermore you are part of the Earth’s environment. You live around animals, plants, trees, waterways, oceans, the entire natural world.  We have a responsibility to protect all living things and all parts of our natural environment. We were not given this beautiful world in order to have “dominion” over it to destroy our environment. Destruction leads to destruction. Good stewardship of our natural environment benefits us all as well as the world we live in. So when you think about the Golden Rule and Altruism, think in a global manner. You yourself can influence a smaller part of the world, but together we can make this world a better place for all living things.


There is so much selfishness and cruelty manifested in our current world that you may need a self-improvement or self-reinforcement plan to keep you moving toward these very positive outcomes for yourself and others. Take notes or cut out this article and keep it handy. Do a library review or browse through books. You will find a great deal of encouraging research and support for these positive lifestyle changes. Put a smiley face on your mirror with a quotation about the Golden Rule.  Walk outside at night, look at the stars and feel your heart opening toward a greater life for yourself and the world!  It’s YOUR LIFE!  Live it with love and happiness!