Spirited Reflection: Embodying the Golden Rule
I have a crystal clear childhood memory of learning from my parents about the Golden Rule: “In everything you do, be careful to treat others in the same way you’d want them to treat you, for that is the essence of all the teachings of the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:11-13), and it has been a touchstone for me throughout my life. I have always been sustained and motivated by a deep sense of the inter-connectedness of all life. Extending the Golden Rule to include all of creation: “Take care to treat creation as you would want to be treated” is such a simple idea, but when taken to heart, utterly transforms our relationship with the planet and with each other.
The Golden Rule is rooted in an ethic of reciprocity, a two-way relationship based on balance and kindness. For far too long, humanity has been living out of balance with creation, consuming resources at an alarmingly unsustainable rate, and destroying ecosystems and the biodiversity of the planet in the process. We have lost sight of the Golden Rule, which calls us to honour our Mother Earth with respect, as we would wish to be treated – to not take more than we need.
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across borders and throughout the planet is driving home our interconnectedness, with each other and with the earth, in an unprecedented way. It is highlighting our interdependence on a global scale. We have a deep sense that we are all vulnerable to the choices made by our neighbours, both across the street and across the oceans. We accept that we must all modify our behaviour to keep each other safe. We can almost hear the earth heaving a gigantic sigh of relief since the pandemic hit, with massive reductions in CO2 emissions and pollution, due in part to less travel and industrialized activity. Clearer air, water and returning wildlife are a testament to the resilience of the earth. It is a wake-up call to what a cleaner, healthier future could look like.
This crisis demonstrates what we can accomplish as a global community when we pull together to address a common threat. In many cases, nations have put aside differences and freely shared information and resources for the common good. Scientists say they have never before seen such collaboration across the globe1. People are finding new and creative ways to connect and help each other even while physically distancing. In South Africa, rival gangs who have been at war for decades have declared an unprecedented truce and are working together to bring food to those in need in their communities2. These kinds of stories remind us of what is possible and allow us a glimpse of what the world looks like when we put compassion and humanity ahead of greed and political gain.
For me, there is a sense that change is in the air. Could 2020 mark a tipping point? Could this be the time when the veil of denial is pulled from our collective eyes, so we finally begin to transform the way we are living on the planet? My most fervent prayer is this: That the spirit of reciprocity, cooperation and kindness we are seeing now as we help one another through this deeply-troubled time, might carry us forward into the future with the same level of passion and commitment, to healing our relationship with each other and the planet.
Ruth Walmsley is a passionate activist and advocate for social and environmental justice, as well as a strong community organizer and networker. In 2011 she co-founded BROKE-Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion in her community to stop the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. Ruth is a member of Vancouver Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and represents Friends on the KAIROS Ecological Justice Circle.