Why is the “golden rule” so hard to follow?

neuschwansteinEarlier today, Chris highlighted a devotional about the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” That idea is closely related to one of Jesus’ two “great commandments”: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Nobody would disagree with these commands, right? Then why is this ideal so rarely on display in human history?

Gene Fant reflects on this contrast between ideal and reality in a post at Evangel about his visit to the Nazi work camp at Flossenburg. He compares the dismal horror of Flossenburg (where Dietrich Bonhoeffer and 30,000 others were murdered) to the fairy-tale Schloss Neuschwanstein, the gorgeous castle built by Ludwig II.

But the contrast Fant observes isn’t the one that might spring most immediately to mind. He compares the instinctive reaction that people experience upon visiting each site:

Visitors from around the world gasped with every turn of a corner on our tour [of Schloss Neuschwanstein], each of us having the same thought in our native languages: “What if I ruled this castle?”

Flossenburg, by contrast, sits on a dead-end road. It has no gift shop. It was not crowded. There were no thoughts of, “What if I were a prisoner in this camp?”

This, then, is the basic impulse of the human experience: we self-identify with kings and queens rather than the downtrodden and the oppressed. We amble through a concentration camp and imagine that those “poor people” were not quite as human as we are, even as we walk through a palace and imagine ourselves to be royalty. We forget that the prisoners were husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers like me, or wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers.

It’s hard to “love your neighbor as yourself” when you’ve mentally excluded certain people—people who might look, think, or behave differently than you—from the circle of those you consider “your neighbor.” When we can’t empathize with somebody as sharing our own basic humanity, it’s alarmingly easy to tell ourselves that Christ’s command simply doesn’t apply.

In the case of Nazi Germany, this impulse had unspeakably evil results. We rightly look back in horror at such atrocities. But in much less dramatic ways, we too fail to obey Jesus’ “great commandments.” Are there people you treat with less than perfect grace—perhaps nearly unconsciously—because on some level, you don’t consider them your “neighbor”?

It’s a sobering reflection, but worth reading.

[The image above shows a close-up view of Schloss Neuschwanstein.]

One Response to “Why is the “golden rule” so hard to follow?”

  • disego says:

    acceptance is what somebody should acquire before appreciating someone else. most of all it shall not happen out of nowhere for me to love my neighbor without praying hard. prayer leads to the unlimited zone where everything is in abundance.