Golden Ruler, Golden Rule & Golden Life
By Al Gray
Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. “He was the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers.” This man was supremely well-educated by the best Greek and Roman tutors of his day. “Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic tome Meditations…. is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia presents a mixed explanation of the life of this pagan ruler, yet includes this account.
During the war with the Quadi in 174 there took place the famous incident of the Thundering Legion which has been a cause of frequent controversy. The Roman army was surrounded by enemies with no chance of escape, when a storm burst. The rain poured down in refreshing showers on the Romans, while the enemy were scattered with lightning and hail. The parched and famishing Romans received the saving drops first on their faces and parched throats, and afterwards in their helmets and shields, to refresh their horses. Marcus obtained a glorious victory as a result of this extraordinary event, and his enemies were hopelessly overthrown.
That such an event did really happen is attested by both pagan and Christian writers. The former attribute the occurrence either to magic or to the prayers of the emperor … The Christian writers attributed the fact to the prayers of the Christians who were in the army and soon there grew up a legend to the effect that in consequence of this miracle the emperor put a stop to the persecution of the Christians…..
Marcus Aurelius was one of the best men of heathen antiquity. (T)he judicious Montesquieu says that….we cannot read the life of this emperor without a softening feeling of emotion. Niebuhr calls him the noblest character of his time, and M. Martha, the historian of the Roman moralists, says that in Marcus Aurelius “the philosophy of Heathendom grows less proud, draws nearer to a Christianity which it ignored or which it despised, and is ready to fling itself into the arms of the Unknown God.”
The Bible upholds a number of foreign rulers to have moral qualities, including some who worshiped the Lord at times. It does not preclude us from considering words of wisdom from other sources. In this sense Marcus authored many very fine, uplifting, inspiring, and wise quotes including this powerful key to success –
“Let it be your constant method to look into the design of people’s actions, and see what they would be at, as often as it is practicable; and to make this custom the more significant, practice it first upon yourself.”
Before expounding upon this concept, let’s consider our Bible Verse of the week as it appears Matthew 7, verse 12 of the King James Version.
12Therefore 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.
These stunningly elegant words sum up the very essence of civil societies of all types, indeed of civilization itself. The concept is found in nearly all cultures for it sums up our fair expectations of how we want, expect, and demand others to treat us. Indeed, even in the most totalitarian of states there is reverence for this golden rule, for wholesale abandonment of it risks revolution. Some years ago this writer read of an elderly woman in China with a long term lease in the middle of exploding development, on account of whom a major office and retail complex was being delayed simply because the woman refused to move from her home. The story seemed odd, until one considers just how powerful the golden rule is.
“Do unto others” goes to the very heart of how we relate to each other as people living in harmony and peace. The concept is redundant in the Constitution of the United States and our precious Bill of Rights, with the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of first the 5th and, later, the 14th Amendments having stood resolute in protection of property rights since the Constitution was ratified.
Recently there been appreciable erosion, not just in our most priceless rights, but the underlying moral code of the golden rule. We stand near the abyss and will certainly topple over if we don’t recover the commandment found in Matthew 7:12.
The golden rule was expanded upon by the words of the golden ruler Marcus Aurelius referenced above. The technique is one of supreme, sublime power. The greatest attorneys practice the first half. “Let it be your constant method to look into the design of people’s actions, and see what they would be at” In other words you get an advantage by placing ones’ self in another’s position, determining his motivations, and predicting his actions. Wise people of all professions, faiths, and organizations use this strategy to excel. Empathy is a powerful tool used to approach the second commandment of “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” It is also a way to lower resistance in an erstwhile adversary.
The second part of the Marcus Aurelius quote is the admonishment “to make this custom the more significant, practice it first upon yourself.” The first part is extremely difficult to master by most people and they simply refuse to make the effort. Their thoughts, desires and motivations are too powerful to temporarily shove aside to gain empathy for another, be it for advantage or be it out of Christian love. Adding the second requirement of introspection of one’s own thoughts, desires, and motivations is an unimaginable, unattainable, and nearly impossible practice to even folks skilled in applying the empathetic first instruction.
The power of the combined technique is stunning. When a person does both parts of this instruction set, it combines empathy with introspection. You not only see the world through the eyes of others, but you analyze your own situation through theirs. It makes your arguments compelling, even overwhelming, for you not only are predictive of their words and deeds, you are predicting how they will address your own! If there is faulty logic, bias, dislike, hatred, or some other negative force in your position, you can objectively identify it and eliminate it before making a crucial error or misjudgment. If the other has the superior argument or position, one can adapt to it or adopt it before his position is established.
This is a path to peace. Wouldn’t it be great if world leaders would practice this? Most wars would be avoided!
If there is one technique that marries a holy commandment to friendships, continuous harmony, and even personal advantage it has to be this one. It is training in this life for eternity. It is of overwhelming power independent of faith.
Marcus Aurelius was a pagan, yet even a pagan emperor knew the magic of the golden rule. The words of Matthew 7:12 ring through the ages in law, as the verse stated, but this golden ruler recommended practicing a more stringent, demanding, and disciplined version of it as one pursues a golden life in every sense of those words.
Can you live the commandment of the golden rule?
Can you take it to a more demanding, higher level of empathy and tempered introspection?
The rewards on earth and in heaven are worth trying. You don’t have to be an emperor or prophet to gain your reward.
You just have to overcome yourself.