Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Ethic of Reciprocity

If I were to ask you to recite the ethic of reciprocity, you might not know exactly of what I am speaking.  However, if I ask you to recite the Golden Rule, I am sure almost all of you would be able to say: Do to others as you would have them do to you.  (Luke 6:31)  St. Matthew’s version is a slightly longer, again because he was writing for a Jewish audience:Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.  (Matthew 7:12)

I suspect that most of you would also be able to tell me that this Golden Rule was spoken by Jesus as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of St. Matthew) and in the Sermon on the Plain (Gospel of St. Luke).  However, it is important for us to realize that this ethic of reciprocity or Golden Rule is a part of the writings of every major religion of the world, both positively and negatively.  For example, the Scriptures of Hinduism state: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.  In the Bahai faith it is expressed thus: Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee. . .  The followers of Confucius will recognize it as: What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others. One last example brings us the Muslim version: Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself.

It has been said many times that there is far more that unites us than what divides us.  I believe that this is just one more example of the truth of this statement.  Every religion and every philosophical system, such as humanism or existentialism, recognizes the ethic of reciprocity.  Sadly, followers of every religion and every philosophical system tend to forget this very simple maxim.  If you don’t want someone to treat you badly, then treat everyone you meet well.

A number of years ago, I was asked to preach at the funeral of a fellow friar with whom I had worked in the business office of one of our churches.  He had spent his entire life paying the bills, balancing the books, and making sure that we were on a sure financial footing.  Because his life was basically led behind the scenes and in a solitary office of the church complex, I didn’t expect a very large turnout for his funeral.  I could not have been more mistaken.  The Church was filled with people who came to celebrate this man’s life.  I asked several of the participants what they most admired about this man.  Everyone said the same thing.  They had never heard this friar make a disparaging comment, a single criticism, or a negative statement about anyone in their entire relationship.  He was remembered as someone who always had good things to say about others.  In return they only had good things to say about him.

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