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Section 2. I Am (not) You

Section 2: Editor’s Note

Consider the golden rule. Most religions, major and minor, have some version of the idea expressed in the Bible that every person should treat others as s/he would want to be treated herself. Philosopher Emanuel Kant transformed the golden rule into a non religious “categorical imperative”: for an action to be permissible it must be possible to apply the action to all people without any contradiction.

Confucious said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

What these formulations have in common is their attempt to resolve the primal paradox by showing that the separate self maintains a fundamental identity with all that is not that self. The Buddhist scriptures advise, “One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.”

Obviously many of the problems of the world, interpersonal, social, religious —conflict within families and between nations, to mention a few — emerge from our simple but notable failure to apply the golden rule as a guideline for our actions and thoughts. Our repeated failure to embrace the primal paradox is evident in domestic abuse, office politics, and international behavior. We have an inherent need to be embraced in love and compassion and a correspondingly awful proclivity to affirm our individual and collectively closed identities by going nose-to-nose with forms of anger and hate. Hillel was asked to sum up the Torah in a few words. He said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Can we recognize ourselves in the other and the other in ourselves? In nature? In all things? Whom do I identify as the extended me? Should I apply the golden rule to all sentient beings? To rocks as well? Where do I draw a line of demarcation separating the me from the not me? Do I need such a line? If so, do I need to apply it in all circumstances?



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