I doubt I will ever deliver a commencement address, and no graduate will ever ask me for words of wisdom. But, I do have a weekly column as my platform, so here I am offering unsolicited advice. As read in today's edition of Small Town Newspaper:
I’ve been reminiscing lately, flipping through old high school yearbooks as I’ve thought about the recent graduates from this current and much younger generation. I don’t know if signing someone’s yearbook is as common a practice now as it was in the ‘70s, but the pages of my old books are filled with the usual clichés written in colorful ink—“you’re the best,” “always stay as sweet as you are,” “good luck in everything you do.”
If one of this year’s graduates were to ask me to sign his or her yearbook, I’d skip the standard remarks, and instead I’d write this in bright red ink: Treat others the way you would like to be treated, because applying the Golden Rule to everything you do beats good luck every time.
Jesus is reported in the Gospels to have taught what we have come to know as the Golden Rule, and the principle can be traced even farther back to ancient cultures all over the world. It was valued by the Egyptians, the Hebrews and the Hindus more than 1,300 years before Christ; and around 500 B.C., Confucius said, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” Buddhist texts read, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” And a teaching of Islam states, “No one of you is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.”
There is a reason why the same guiding principle was scratched on parchment in every corner of the earth and is still relevant—it works, if only we’d practice it. When applied to every aspect of life, whether you head to college or join the workforce, whether you live alone or with a family, treating others the way you want to be treated sums up the highest human ideals. It will lead you to the greatest success you can achieve in life, even if you end up penniless.
When you live by the Golden Rule, you become compassionate because you put yourself in the shoes of other people. You treat them courteously, you are respectful of their opinions and their rights and you are honest in your interactions. You win and lose with grace, you are humble in your accolades and you are generous with your actions as well as with your resources.
A college student who lives by the Golden Rule is a treat as a roommate. He doesn’t judge, gossip, backbite or even steal food from the refrigerator. He earns his grades and achievements honestly, and he is valued as a true and reliable friend.
An employee who treats others with respect is one who puts in an honest day’s work and is prized by her employer. She values the ideas of her co-workers and doesn’t undermine her supervisor behind closed doors. She is positive instead of petty and knows the value of fair play in teamwork.
Norman Rockwell felt so strongly about the ethics of the Golden Rule that he spent more than a year working on a painting that would depict its ideal. His finished piece, featured in “Saturday Evening Post” and now displayed in the United Nations, is a montage of people from around the world in various states of worship and contemplation, all standing side by side. Each character is looking inward without judgment or condemnation of the others, a portrayal not of how the world is but how it could be if everyone were to practice this single rule.
So, to the graduates who are facing a crossroads, bring me your yearbook with an empty page, and I’ll inscribe the Golden Rule as timely and timeless advice because you’re going to need much more than luck to make your mark on the world. And the world needs your mark to help live out its universal ideal.
If there’s room in your yearbook, I might also add this wish for you to reminisce over in years to come, paraphrased from a fourth-century bishop and scholar from Palestine:
May you desire happiness for everyone and envy no one.
May you gain no victory that harms you or your opponent.
May you be a peacemaker and bring comfort to the afflicted.
May you never fail a friend.