Kim Polman is the co-founder and Chair of Reboot the Future, a foundation whose mission is to foster a new world where we treat others and the planet as we would wish to be treated. Here she reflects on this ‘golden rule’.
I sometimes wonder if a person who feels regular hatred and anger is truly happy. I know that I am not happy when I feel that way. I have worked hard to minimise those emotions. In the long run, they are not helpful, not to me, not to others, not to the world in which we live.
I meet a lot of people, have travelled extensively, and have lived in a number of different countries. I have been privileged to engage in some wonderful conversations with a variety of people.
I have learned that there are some things that are shared by people all over the world, despite our many differences. No one likes to be hurt, through words or weapons. No one likes to be cheated. No one likes to be lied to. No one likes to not be heard. No one likes to be treated abusively, or with indignation, or with disrespect. Yet, this happens all the time, and is the cause of the hatred and anger that bubbles up from all directions.
Have we asked ourselves recently: “Do I like this kind of behaviour expressed to me?”
Have we asked ourselves recently: “Am I acting this way?” An honest answer just might be yes.
If we don’t like it, what right do we have to treat others that way?
The world seems to be in a dire state right now. There is such polarisation, tribalism, hatred, self-righteousness, revenge, extremism, intolerance, deception and infliction of pain on others, that it is hard to feel safe, stay calm and find peace, when that’s what we all really want. All those negative qualities that so many people are living result in exactly the opposite of what people really want deep in their hearts.
What I have seen in all my experiences is that the values of kindness, generosity, honesty, empathy, friendship, patience, forgiveness, balance, cooperation, community are shared around the world, and are universal values. Everyone prefers to be smiled at rather than scowled at. Everyone prefers a handshake to a punch in the face. Everyone prefers a hug to a kick in the gut. Everyone prefers to be spoken to gently rather than shouted at. These actions are universally loved and desired.
Who is responsible for making these ways of being possible?
Each one of us is responsible.
It starts with each of us.
I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to be loved, I need to love first.
If I moved somewhere new, if I wanted to have friends, I had to be a good friend first.
If I wanted my children to learn how to be patient, I had to be patient first.
If I wanted to be respected in my job, I had to respect others first.
If I wanted a good team, I had to be a good team member.
If I wanted a family member to not shout at me, I had to be sure I didn’t shout.
If I wanted anyone to be generous with me, I had to be generous first.
There is one simple principle that is universal, that is in all religions, that is inherent in indigenous cultures, that is at the heart of the United Nations, that was professed by the great prophets throughout human history since Confucius, by philosophers since Plato, and is now being proven by neurologists, that living this principle is the true source of happiness. It is sometimes called The Golden Rule.
At Reboot the Future, we propose a modern version of it that goes beyond human interactions and includes all life on our planet: Treat others and the planet as you would wish to be treated. We believe that if more people lived this more fully in their daily lives, we could reboot the future, by being an antidote to the seemingly prevalent hatred and intolerance of our time.
Think about it: If today you did not get impatient at the slow check-out line at the supermarket, you would be able to say something nice to the person at the check-out who you realise has a disability that slows them down. Fantastic that they have a job and can be independent. You can rejoice with them rather than get angry.
Think about it. The next time you buy a toothbrush, you buy a wooden one that will degrade rather than a plastic one that will stay in the landfill forever.
Think about it. The next time your teenager misbehaves and has a rant, you do not react with rage but stay calm and tell them that you will be glad to listen when they can talk with a calm voice.
Think about it. If someone moves into your neighbourhood from a different country with a different culture, you could shun them, or you could be kind and welcome them. And learn from them. What would you want them to do to you if you were the one moving to a new place?
Think about it. If politicians and business leaders applied the golden rule to their decisions, how much fairer and more peaceful the world would be.
All of these situations offer possibilities to live the Golden Rule which will then result in a better outcome.
Living this simple principle requires three things:
- You do need to listen when there are differences. Though at Reboot the Future we do believe in the common universal values mentioned earlier, we do recognise vast differences between us. But here we all are, living together in communities and on this planet with other non-human life. We have to figure out how to function so we have peace and safety. Listening to each other is a crucial first step.
- You may need a lot of courage to go against ingrained practices in your family, or in your place of worship, or in your organisation where you work, or in your community group, that have ultimately become hurtful.
- You need to take action. The principle is about doing something. You can’t fix everything, but you can work on something (maybe even a few things) that you care the most about.
This principle asks you to ask yourself every day: Am I being hurtful or helpful – to myself, to another, to other non-human life on our beautiful planet?
When more of us live this every day, we reboot the future.