Treat Others As You Wish To Be Treated Essay Outline

My book uses this story to introduce the golden rule:

The old man and his grandson
(The wooden bowl)

 We need to imagine our actions being done to us (switching places)

There once was a grandpa who lived with his family. As Grandpa grew older, he began to slobber and spill his food. So the family had him eat alone. When he dropped his bowl and broke it, they scolded him and got him a cheap wooden bowl. Grandpa was so unhappy. Now one day the young grandson was working with wood. "What are you doing?" Mom and Dad asked. "I'm making a wooden bowl," he said, "for when you two get old and must eat alone." Mom and Dad then looked sad and realized how they were mistreating Grandpa. So they decided to keep quiet when he spills his food and to let him eat with the family.
A golden-rule story should have an easily expressed moral. Since my book uses this story to introduce the golden rule, I give the moral as "We need to imagine our actions being done to us (switching places)." Others might give the moral as "Different generations can respect and learn from each other" or perhaps "How we can unthinkingly hurt those we love." In a recent homily using this story, Pope Francis gave the moral as "Grandparents are a treasure." When you tell a golden-rule story, you might ask people what they think the moral is. Often people may come up with different answers that are equally insightful.

I adapted this story from the Grimm Brothers' "The old man and his grandson" (1812), which is popular on the Web. The story is sometimes called "The wooden bowl"; under this name, the story is also popular and is a delightful book for children. Dean Fansler's Filipino Popular Tales (New York: American Folk-Lore Society, 1921, pp. 271-5 - see Amazon or Gutenberg) tells how this story exists in many countries, including India, Mexico, the Philippines, and across Europe. In these stories, Father is about to mistreat the aging Grandpa in some way (e.g., Grandpa will be made to eat alone or sent off to the woods to die). Then Grandson shows his intention to treat Father the same way (and he does this using a wooden bowl, cloth, rope, or hole). Finally Father, seeing that he'd hate to be treated as he treats the old man, has a change of heart. There's also a Chinese version. An ancient Buddhist version (India) of the story has Father about to kill and bury Grandpa; but Grandson digs a second hole for when, following family custom, he has to kill Father.

My Chapter 1 uses several stories to explain how NOT to apply the golden rule. My first story has two parts:

The two monkeys
(The monkey and the fish)

 People differ and the golden rule needs to respect this; so ask: "Am I now
willing that if I were in the same situation then this be done to me?"

There once lived a monkey and a fish. The monkey followed the golden rule, always trying to treat others as he wanted to be treated. But he sometimes applied the golden rule foolishly. Now one day a big flood came. As the threatening waters rose, the foolish monkey climbed a tree to safety. Then he looked down and saw a fish struggling in the water. He thought, "I wanted to be lifted from the water." So he reached down and grabbed the fish from the water, lifting him to safety on a high branch. Of course that didn't work. The fish died.

Kita, who lived on the same island, was a wise golden-rule monkey. She learned that fish die when taken from water. When the flood came, she considered taking a fish from the water. But she imagined herself in his situation. She asked, "Am I now willing that if I were in the same situation as the fish, then I be taken from the water?" She answered, "Gosh no: this would kill me!" So she left the fish in the water.

The foolish monkey applied the golden rule literally: treat others as you want to be treated. He wanted to be taken from the water, so he took the fish from the water. He didn't consider how fish and monkeys differ. Being taken from the water saves a monkey but kills a fish.

Kita was much wiser. When Kita considered taking the fish from the water, she tried to know the situation of the fish (who had different likes, dislikes, and needs). She imagined being in the fish's exact place and having this same thing done to her. She tested her consistency by asking: "Am I now willing that if I were in the same situation as the fish, then I be taken from the water?" Finally, she acted on the golden rule (leaving the fish in the water).

"Kita" is also an acronym for some main elements in using the golden rule wisely:

  • Know: "How would my action affect others?"
  • Imagine: "What would it be like to have this done to me in the same situation?"
  • Test for consistency: "Am I now willing that if I were in the same situation then this be done to me?"
  • Act toward others only as you're willing to be treated in the same situation.

"The monkey and the fish" is a popular story from Africa (Tanzania). I added the second monkey and the Kita acronym.

Chapter 1 has other stories that illustrate points about golden-rule reasoning. A story about squirrels teaches that we sometimes need to act against what others want; the golden rule lets us discipline baby squirrel (for his own good) as long as we're willing that we be disciplined in a like situation. Frazzled Frannie teaches that we needn't ignore our own interests; the golden rule lets us say no to unreasonable requests of others, so long as we're willing that others say no to us in a like situation. Pre-law Lucy teaches that the golden rule needs to be applied to third parties too. And two further stories teach that, for the golden rule to lead reliably to right action, it has to be combined with knowledge and imagination; Electra applies the golden rule foolishly because she gets her facts wrong, and Rich must work hard at knowledge and imagination to apply the golden rule adequately to his complex coal-mine business. (The last three stories on this Web page likewise are about how to answer tricky objections to the golden rule.)

Further chapters also have pedagogically useful stories. In the world-religions chapter, for example, Hillel (Jewish) teaches that life's complexities shouldn't blind us to what's most important, the Good Samaritan (Christian) teaches us to apply the golden rule even to those we've been taught to hate, and Queen Mallika (Buddhist) teaches that another's suffering is as important to that person as our own suffering is to us.

Chapter 6 is about moral education - how to teach morality (including the golden rule) to the next generation. Stories are an important tool of moral education. As I wrote this chapter, I envisioned that a "Golden Rule Stories" Web page might be useful to many people, especially teachers. That's how this Web page came to be.

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