Friday, May 15, 2015

#143 The Golden Rule

Dear all,
    Our two-year-old grandson has learned to say complete sentences that start with the words "I want".  He's very clear, passionate, and direct about what he wants--and, despite all the inconvenience and the tears, I would wish that for all of us. 
    I also wish that we could all get better at noticing the tiny and subtle beauties around us, as well as the striking and obvious ones.  I've been trying to take in the amazing process of leaves opening up day by day--it's an endless source of joy if only I can pay close enough attention.

The golden rule

I was busily treating a dear friend the way I would like to be treated.  But we were in closer quarters than usual, and I kept getting messages that this was not working.  My attempt to calm ruffled feelings was irritating her.  How could this be?  I was being so diligent in following the Golden Rule of my childhood.  Could this rule, one that I had lived by all my life, be wrong?

As I thought about it, I realized that there are at least five possible rules on how to treat other people, with the one I knew best right in the middle.

“Treat others in a way that maximizes your advantage.”  Use them.  I imagine that few of us aspire to this first rule, though the behavior is not uncommon. I know that I often end up following the second rule: “Treat others in a way that minimizes your disadvantage.” It seems more like an unaware fall-back position. Try not to get them angry or upset, or otherwise set them up to cause you trouble.  Protect yourself.

Then there’s the rule of my childhood: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” This rule is a great advance, setting us up to be active, thoughtful and positive in our relations with others.  I’m discovering, however, that it has a serious flaw.  People have different experiences and preferences.  Think of the child who wants to give a parent the gift that he or she would be excited about receiving.  Giving what you want for yourself often just doesn’t work. This was what I was running up against with my friend.  I like to get my ruffled feathers calmed.  I like reassurance.  She, on the other hand, would prefer to be joined in her upset.  The smoothing makes her feel patronized and unseen.

So we arrive at the next rule: “Treat others the way they indicate they would like to be treated.”  This seems pretty advanced.  I’m taking myself out of the center and trying to really think about the other person.  I have to acknowledge our differences in culture and experience.  I have to consider the power dynamic between us, and maybe between our people.  This is an exciting possibility, and I stretch toward it with my friend, stepping way outside my comfort zone, and trying out behaviors that are counterintuitive at best, and risk humiliation at worst.  Yet things go better!  I’m happy to claim this new rule as my own.

Even as I do, I can glimpse another one far out on the horizon: “Treat others in a way that allows them to flourish.” I’m not rushing to get there.  I still need plenty of time to practice with the fourth rule.  But this one calls for seeing beyond what people say to who they really are and what they really need; it calls for recognizing that their words and attitudes may not tell the whole story.  It involves being willing to challenge what they say they want. I’ve done this a few times with small children, putting my arms around a beloved child who has been taken over by distress and saying, "No, I’m not going to let you do that. You may not like it, and I'm glad to listen to you be upset, but I'm just not going to let you do it."

For this to work, we have to by crystal clear about the other person’s goodness.  We have to be so solid in the relationship that we can dare steer it into uncharted waters (and humble enough to know when we’re going out of our depth).  We have to take complete responsibility for holding onto our own goodness, so we can take the brunt of their upset without getting rocked or hurt.

This is aspirational to be sure—maybe too much so to be called a rule.  But who wouldn’t want to build those muscles—in all our relationships?  It certainly makes the rule I grew up with seem like just the beginning rather than the end in our journey toward treating others well. 

Oak cycle

Through fall
when other leaves turn red and gold
then, knowing that their time is done
gently disengage and float away
oak leaves fade to brown and hold on tight.

Through winter cold when other trees
reveal their splendid bones
in graceful silhouettes against the sky
oaks keep their clumpy ugliness
of rumpled brown.

Even in early spring
when all the world is new
and mists of green are spreading everywhere
those tired old leaves hold tight.

Only when new growth
deep inside the tree
starts to clamor for its turn,
only then do they cede their place
release their hold
and fall.

Branches are bare now
for a short few days
then buds begin to swell
and tiny perfect oak leaf babes
peek out, uncurl,
join the glory of the spring
and start the journey of another year.

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!

Challenging corporate personhood

Over a decade ago, to protect small and family farms from industrial factory farming, a handful of Pennsylvania townships took the unprecedented step of banning corporate farming within their borders.  Communities in eight states have followed their lead, banning corporate “fracking” for shale gas, factory farming, sludge dumping, large-scale water withdrawals, and industrial-scale energy projects.

These actions challenge an edifice of corporate legal doctrines – like corporate ‘personhood’ – that has been built over the past century to protect corporate prerogatives.  The goal is to reclaim a legal structure that allows for the building of economically and environmentally sustainable communities free from corporate interference.

Recently, a Pennsylvania county court gave this new movement a boost.  The judge ruled that corporations cannot elevate their “private rights” above the rights of people.  The Pennsylvania Constitution, she declared, only protects the rights of people, not business entities; the article of the state Constitution which reads, “All men are born equally free and independent,” cannot apply to business entities because they were not born at all.

While some state governments are trying to limit these local initiatives, this ruling represents a significant crack in the judicial armor that has been so systematically welded together by major corporations, and affirms that change occurs only when people begin to openly question and challenge such legal doctrines.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The leadership that Pope Francis is taking on climate change.

The entry into the US presidential race of Bernie Sanders, bringing a fresh and progressive voice--and one unbeholden to current power holders--into the Democratic primary.

The growth of opposition to the hugely anti-democratic Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which seemed unstoppable just a few months ago (to learn more and take action:

All the farmers who know, respect, love and care for the land that supports them (and all of us).

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

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