“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s a command based on Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:31 NIV). You may have heard it called the Golden Rule, and it is a principle seen in many human religions and human cultures. It is simple human courtesy, and we should be practicing it regularly. Unfortunately, people don’t teach it regularly.
Isocrates (436–338 BC), an influential ancient Greek rhetorician, said, “Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.” There are similar phrases in many religions, in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Confucius said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” So, there is evidence that it was important to know and follow this rule.
Imagine a world where people run around taking whatever they want. Imagine a world where it’s everyone for themselves, survival of the fittest. Imagine a world with no laws. This would be absolute chaos, think Black Friday sales meets Grand Theft Auto. There are days that I felt like this is playing out in my own home, especially when the kids are off from school for the summer.
These days you might hear this rule mentioned in elementary school. When you have a classroom with twenty or more children, the Golden Rule can be invaluable. The lessons you learn in school are important, but some lessons should begin at home. Courtesy is one of those lessons, and it should start at an early age.
Your home is the first introduction to society. When you are born, you are the most fragile and innocent creature in the house. You are also the lowest on the totem pole. As you grow up, you learn to respect each other and your elders—at least you should. You learn how to get along with those that you live with. This is your family, your tribe. They will care for you and protect you. So, you learn how to share with each other. You learn how to love one another. Yeah, that even includes those annoying siblings.
Most likely, your parents taught to be courteous. You learned simple manners. You learned to put others before yourself. Your parents taught you to say “please” and “thank you,” and to clean up after yourself. You probably learned most of this from their example. In the same manner, you learned to think before you speak. Although many struggle with this courtesy, it does prevent you from saying things that you will later regret. There was even a saying, “Children should be seen, not heard.” This gave the children time to listen to the adults in conversation and learn from them.
Courtesy is that general code of conduct that keeps you from hurting the ones you love. It is also for those that you don’t love. Just because a person is a stranger, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be courteous to them. In fact, you should probably be more polite.
Courtesy goes hand-in-hand with personal responsibility. Ron Haskins, senior fellow in the Economic Studies program and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, wrote, “Personal responsibility is the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards. But personal responsibility also means that when individuals fail to meet expected standards, they do not look around for some factor outside themselves to blame.”
We all need to be a little more courteous to each other, and it is up to us as individuals to teach this to our children courtesy. Whether you are dealing with a sibling, a parent, a child, or a stranger, it is our personal responsibility to be courteous. This courtesy will keep our society together and it will keep it at peace.