What is the golden rule? Where does the golden rule come from?

In a country rife with division, here’s one thing Americans agree on, whether young or old, Christian or secular, Democrat or Republican: the value of the golden rule.

A new survey from Deseret News and The Marist Poll has shown that 92% of American adults say the call to ‘do unto others as they would do unto you’ is a ‘very necessary’ or ‘necessary’ part of their lives. personal. Strong levels of support for the Golden Rule can be found in every major religious group, at every level of education, and in every generation.

However, the survey identified some subtle distinctions between various demographic groups. For example, it showed that 18-29 year olds are even more supportive of the Golden Rule than older adults. At least 96% of this age group embraces the concept, which is found in almost all religious traditions, despite the fact that young people are significantly less religious than older adults.

When asked a second question about following the golden rule in their working lives, Americans again agreed it was “very necessary” or “necessary.” Eighty-eight percent of American adults said doing for others what they would do for you helps guide their careers, including 87% of those who are not religious.

The Deseret-Marist “Faith in America” poll was conducted in January 2022 among 1,653 American adults. The margin of error is 3.2 percentage points.


Taken together, the responses to the two Golden Rule questions showed that Americans are much more likely to agree with it than to disagree with it. On both issues, Democrats and Republicans said the concept was needed at nearly identical rates, as did Christians and those who identified as non-religious.

The fact that the Golden Rule is so popular across religious, geographic, political, and age differences likely points to a biological basis for persistent support. Altruism and cooperation confer advantage on both individuals and the human species, according to evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers.

“Natural selection will indeed favor doing to others what they do to you,” he said, adding that while reciprocal altruism has a cost, the rewards usually outweigh the expenses. Trivers warned that some will pay attention to the wants and needs of others so they can reap the benefits of appearing altruistic without paying the price.

However, the potential payoff of following the Golden Rule and its enduring popularity doesn’t mean it’s simple to follow. There’s complexity in doing it right, said Reverend Harry Gensler, a Jesuit priest and retired philosophy professor who wrote a book called “Ethics and the Golden Rule,” during a a 2014 lecture at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Describing himself as a “Golden Rule junkie,” Reverend Gensler explained that implementing the principle involves several steps. Following the golden rule involves a conceptual leap consisting not only in imagining what we would not want done to us, but, more precisely, what the other person would not want done to him. In other words, implementing the Golden Rule is to consider that others have needs, likes and dislikes different from our own.

“The core of the Golden Rule is to switch places,” Reverend Gensler said. “What do you do to…someone else that you imagine being done to yourself and you’re like, ‘Am I ready that, if I was in this situation, I be treated this way?'”

Reverend Gensler offered an African story of a monkey and a fish as an example. The monkey, he said, “was a golden rule monkey” who always treated others the way he wanted to be treated.

But he applied “it quite stupidly,” Reverend Gensler said. “One day, a big storm hit his island… the monkey was afraid for his life.” Seeking shelter in a tree, he reached the river and lifted a fish to safety, assuming that, like him, he would also want to escape from the water.

The fish died because the monkey, Reverend Gensler explained, was following a literal interpretation of the Golden Rule. The principle, then, is best articulated as follows: “Treat others only as you consent to be treated in the same situation,” he said.

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