By Rabbi Rick Sherwin
Several Faith Community leaders gathered this month to discuss the religious theme of moving from conflict to civility in America, a theme that certainly applies to every political, sociological, religious, and economic sector of society.
In the course of breakout discussions, we were asked how we would define and implement the Golden Rule in society. As expected, there were different versions of the Golden Rule. The Christian leaders echoed the sermon of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Two non-Christian leaders – a Muslim and member of the Freethought (atheist) Community – offered the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would do unto themselves.” How do you know how they would like to be treated? Ask them! Civility comes with caring communication.
The Jewish version reflects the teaching of Hillel, focusing not on what we do, but what we should not do: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.” If you don’t want people talking behind your back, then don’t talk behind others’ backs. If you don’t want people to limit your freedom of expression, then do not limit theirs. If you don’t want people excluding you, then do not exclude others.
Which rule is correct? The one that effectively smooths the path from conflict to civility, and it seems all three do exactly that! We hold common goals, even as we implement different strategies.
In the end, civility is more than coexisting in peace, more than getting along. It is about working together to actively construct the type of world guided by what Judaism calls the 13 Godly Attributes, which include compassion, patience, anger control, empathy, and kindness.
There are many in society who call for mutual tolerance, a worthy goal. I agree with Elie Wiesel זצ״ל who called for replacing the word “tolerance” with the word “respect.”
Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.