Upon review, it is apparent that “The Good” in my life is comprised of inalienable beliefs about, simply put, how people relate to one another, especially with empathy. The central belief is the so-called “Golden Rule,” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Also called the Ethic of Reciprocity, this concept is about as universal as there can be; in fact, versions exist in the writings of every major faith tradition. I believe this is due to the fact that the saying speaks to the fundamental behaviors and attitudes that contribute to a high functioning society regardless of historical context, such as mutual respect, empathy and compassion.
When people do not honor the “Golden Rule,” or place other beliefs over it, problems inevitably arise. Take for example the current news story about the school resource officer in the Columbia, S.C. high school who was fired for flipping the desk of a black student, dragging her across the floor and forcibly subduing her. The officer may not have behaved in this way had he first considered whether he
would have approved of similar treatment of his daughter. Similarly, the student may not have refused to comply with the teacher’s requests to stop using her cell phone in class (behavior which precipitated the officer’s action) if she had thought about how it would feel to be ignored or denigrated by someone else. This particular story was more complex, with racial implications, for example. But there is little doubt that it represents a failure by the people involved to show respect and empathy for each other at a basic level, the essence of the “Golden Rule.”
Another “good” in my personal and professional interactions is the importance of fairness and balance to understanding. Whether a news story or disagreement with a spouse or friend, the principle applies: you must try to see the situation through a different lens than your own. I have found this value especially helpful in leadership roles, such as on boards and committees. Never assume to know everything about a situation, and in fact, hearing different perspectives is most often beneficial in myriad and often unforeseen ways. Just the attempt to hear the opposing position can be profound in terms of maintaining trust in the group and making progress on the matter at hand.
There are other “goods” that are imperative, such as humane behavior toward animals. I’ve always believed that you can tell a great deal about a person’s morality by how he or she treats animals. The same holds true for cultures. But this is a more nuanced argument in a post modern world. I learned this in an undergraduate English class, when I wrote an essay about bullfighting. To me, the practice is inhumane and barbaric. However, a fellow student who was Spanish accused me of being an arrogant, ethnocentric American who believed in the supremacy of my culture and attempted to force values on others, out of context and with no regard for their rich histories and cultures. It was a rude awakening. I still believe bullfighting is inhumane, and I have the right to that opinion. But my view is not the only one that is valid. In hindsight, this was probably my first lesson in communications ethics literacy!