Photo of a family by Brittney Rankin. US Army/Flickr

I get a charge out of noticing subtle connections between the many different conversations we bring to the airwaves and webwaves each week. This happened recently as I was prepping two upcoming programs: one with author and scholar Karen Armstrong, the other featuring developmental cognitive neuroscientist Adele Diamond. Hear both above.

Both Armstrong and Diamond discuss Rabbi Hillel and The Golden Rule in their conversations with Krista, but they come at this story from slightly different directions. For Armstrong who grew up Catholic and once lived as a nun, Hillel's words opened up new doors of thought about compassionate action as an expression of religious faith.

Adele Diamond — who was raised in a religious Jewish home and says that Judaism is an important part of her identity — has a different take on the Hillel story. As Diamond sees it, Hillel's injunction to "do no harm" doesn't go far enough. She's inspired by Jesus' words from the Gospel of Luke: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

While Armstrong and Diamond have different reactions to the same story, both seem to draw kindred inspiration about the importance of living and acting with compassion.

Share Your Reflection



Honestly, I prefer Hillel's version, for the simple reason that I can always be certain that, if I do not want something done to me, someone else is very likely to not want it done to them. The reverse is not necessarily true. For instance, how many people would want to live out the life of the heroine of the novel that made Pauline Réage famous? Yet, someone who does have such desires could innocently trespass against another by assuming that her desires are shared. By taking what some consider the "negative" form of the Golden Rule, one does not risk harming others due to mistaken assumptions.

One of the problems with the Luke version is the assumption that the things you would have done unto you are the same things I would have done unto me. If your child is visiting a friend who's family has religious convictions against medical care or believe strongly in corporal punishment, would you want them to do unto her as they would unto themselves? Political liberals and conservatives have many differences as to what they would have done unto them. Hillel's version does not preclude action, rather the action comes from a different place. As a Buddhist I believe the highest good comes from compassion, which is literally the sharing of another's pain. Hillel comes from that place; recognizing the suffering of your neighbor and identifying it with yourself. Both Martin Luther King and Gandhi changed the world with action arising from this reading of do no harm -- the Buddhist, Jainist ahimsa.

The previous two comments are very thought-provoking and I can see the wisdom in not assuming that what would please you would please others. However, our world doesn't seem to suffer much from people genuinely intending to be kind and doing so mistakenly. Harm of the kind described - the corporal punishment, the values differences of liberals and conservatives - comes out of forcing someone else to live by your rules. Yet those people would not want that done to them at all. In other words, the doing has to come from the heart (would you feel good if this was done to you?) vs. the head (this is good for you whether you like it or not.) I don't think people administer corporal punishment because they would want people to do that to them. They think it "should" be done to someone else. I think either Hillel's or Jesus's statement work and both have dangers. Hillel's can be seen as compassionate respect (as described by the first two comments) or as isolative - leaving others alone, not hurting them, but not engaging either. Jesus' can be seen as interfering or actively compassionate - imposing your own values in the lives of others or reaching out toward others to actively make them happy. If forced to choose, I would probably prefer the more pro-active approach of Jesus. Fortunately, I can take advantage of the best of both points of view without choosing!

Half a dozen of one; six of the other--between choosing the sayings of Hillel or Jesus. G.B. Shaw wrote something of an adaptation of the Golden Rule: "Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may be different."
I think inherent in Shaw's remark is an interplay between two or more people, so it seems some involvement or interaction would be present, otherwise how would you know someone else's likes or dislikes. And in sum, I think we endow too much "meaning" into simple statements, much like when at a conference, two psychiatrists meet in an elevator; one says "Good morning," and the other thinks, What does she mean by that!?

Isn't what you are referring to as "Jesus' version", the words of the Five Books of Moses, in Leviticus 19:18 - "You shall love your fellow as yourself"?

If so, then Adele Diamond can also find the "Golden Rule" in her own Jewish tradition.