There exists an ethic within most every religious doctrine and spiritual philosophy. It's connotations are consistent, and it's resonance is profound. It is known as the Ethic of Reciprocity, or more commonly, the Golden Rule.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"
Do unto others... meaning actions are consequential. They affect others.
As you would have them do unto you... likewise, the actions of others are consequential. They affect you.
The Golden Rule challenges individuals to shape actions by first asking a question: would I still act in this way if I found myself in the place of the person, or people, my actions will affect? Would I approve of my actions were they the actions of another?
From the times of tribal speartossing to the modern exchanges of bullets and bombs, humans have fought and killed each other based on differences of belief, or culture, or ethnicity, and the list only goes on. The Golden Rule is the prelude to harmonious living and a precursor to the cohesive existence between peoples, each of whom is unique from another.
However, despite its magnanimous utility, even the Golden Rule falls victim to a serious caveat.
How the Monkeys Saved the Fish
It was nearing the end of Tanzanian March, and the strength of the rains had soaked the lands and flooded the rivers. The animals who were able had already run to the hills. The ones who could not escape had drowned.
Agile, the Monkeys had managed to flee to the treetops and together looked down at the waters below. The Fish were swimming about, darting between fallen branches and jumping with joyous abandon in the wake of the flood's devastation.
One of the Monkeys saw the Fish and turned to the Monkey beside him . "My brother," he said, "look down at those poor creatures. See how they struggle and toss? They will surely drown."
His brother agreed. "Without any legs, they could not escape to the hills or the trees. We have to do something to help them!" The pair pondered on their branch for a moment until the first let out a happy hoot. "I know! We can go to the edge of the water, where it's shallow, and pull them to safety."
The Monkeys descended from the trees and, one by one, pulled the Fish out of the water. They layed them carefully on the dry grasses, Very soon, the flopping fishes lie motionless.
"See? They were exhausted after fighting so hard to escape from the floods. Were it not for us, all those poor legless Fish would have died." His brother nodded. "When they wake, they'll be grateful for us having saved them!"
Unfortunately, the Fish could not breathe on the land, and having been pulled from their homes in the waters, expired away in the grasses. The Monkeys returned to the treetops feeling quite satisfied with themselves.
Fish Are Not Monkeys
The Monkeys followed the Golden Rule phenomenally. They knew that, had they been caught in the grips of those waters, they'd want to be pulled to the safer grasses. However the Fish were not Monkeys. To do unto them as the Monkeys would have wanted was likely the worst thing for them.
It goes without saying that every rule has implications, and the Golden Rule is no different. It is not the catch-all it seems. In order to follow the Golden Rule most effectively, we must not only ask what we'd want done unto us, but we must also ask: what precisely would this person or these people want done unto them?
Little by little, we can learn to appreciate our differences, because though our similarities are what unites us, our differences are equally special.
"Hurt not others with that which pains yourself." Udanavarga 5:18
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.
"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." -Islamic Sunnah
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. -Jewish Talmud
Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'" -Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
"This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517
"Respect for all life is the foundation." -The Great Law of Peace