For the second assembly broadcast of the term I want us all to think about how we can all be nicer to each other, to better support each other, not just in school but in the community and society as a whole. Our school motto is of course “The days that make us happy, make us wise” from John Masefield. So how can we be happy? I opened the broadcast with these questions:
How should we treat each other?
How can we get along better?
How can we be reminded to respect each other’s differences and to do the right thing?
Where to start? One of the first set of written down rules, and perhaps the most famous would be The Ten Commandments, brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses as told in the Hebrew Torah and Old Testament book of Exodus, chapter 20. A very similar account of the story is told in the 17th chapter of the Qur’an.
We can simplify the commandments down to: worship God, have a day off, honour your parents (great idea!), don’t murder, don’t cheat on anyone, don’t steal, don’t lie and don’t be jealous.
These are all very well but not what we were looking for to answer our questions. Also, they are ‘commandments’ – things you’re told to do. What we want is more of a declaration, a promise, a charter or something that the students themselves have come up with and follow because they feel they’ve chosen well.
Every assembly broadcast is followed by a task so far this time it was for the students to come up with their own ‘rules of engagement’, their own ‘Magna Carta’. So I thought it was a good idea to give a short magical history tour of such agreements.
The Magna Carta (literally ‘Great Charter’) from 1215 is one of the most important documents in history as it established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial. Although a great start towards democracy, the Magna Carter has been changed and improved over the past 800 years and yet three of its passages remain in British law unchanged. It was also the basis for the the American Declaration of Independence 1776 and the Constitution, 1787 which contain these famous words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This led Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, adopted by the United Nations details an individual’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms and commits nations to recognise all humans as being born free and equal in dignity and rights regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.
This became the basis International Bill of Human Rights in 1976 and was declared ‘a Magna Carta for all humanity’.
But with many clauses and catering for everyone, these bills are not quite snappy enough for us to put on our classroom poster. Is there a simpler rule that we can follow, and put on each wall?
This quest leads us back to possibly the simplest and most beautiful statement of human solidarity. Ever uttered So great is the Golden Rule that 143 leaders of the world’s major faiths endorsed the Golden Rule as part of the 1993 ‘Declaration Toward a Global Ethic’.
But who said it first, and in what way?
Possibly the earliest form is found in the religion of Jainism around 700 BCE (BCE meaning Before the Common Era or BC, Before Christ): “Nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential.”
Jainism is unique in that the more fundamental and extreme a Jain becomes, the nicer they are.
Buddhism (623–543 BCE) says “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
The Egyptian Late Kingdom (664–323 BCE) puts it similarly “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”
Thales from Ancient Greece (624 -546 BCE) states “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
Confucius (551–479 BCE) in the Mahābhārata, the ancient epic of India says it as “One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self. In brief, this is dharma. Anything else is succumbing to desire.”
Seneca the Younger of Rome who lived 4 BCE–65 CE (CE meaning Common Era or AD, Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord): “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you”, clearly laying out the reciprocal nature of these versions of The Golden Rule.
The rule does not feature in the Qur’an but does in the 7th century Islamic Hadith, the collected teachings and sayings of Muhammad: “The Prophet said: ‘As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.'”
The version we may well know best comes to us via the book of Levictus in the Hebrew Torah and the Old Testament: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbour as yourself”. It is this version that is most famous as it was quoted in the Gospel of Luke, by Jesus of Nazareth as part of His Sermon on the Mount. As those who engage in public speaking well know, you often have to deal with hecklers and Jesus was no different. Just as He’d finished his eloquent talk, someone shouted out, possibly being sarcastic, “but who is my neighbour?”. Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of a man who is injured and left for dead by his own people and helped backed to health by someone who came from a people regarded as the enemy. This is the moment where the Golden Rule is expanded, breaking away from Karma (what goes around comes around) and instead emphasises the need for positive action that brings benefit to another, not simply restraining oneself from negative activities that hurt another, without a possible future benefit to oneself.
The Golden Rule has faced criticisms by some philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, saying that the rule is only as good as the person uttering it. Some might use it as an excuse not to help others if they themselves don’t need help. If followed strictly, a Judge could not send a man to prison when he wouldn’t want to be sent to prison himself.
Perhaps the way through is to realise that the rule is not a universal commandment but a fluid guide that forces us to take situations as we find them and that it is important to take other people’s cultural differences into account. This is what is sometimes known as the Platinum Rule: We shouldn’t treat people as we want to be treated but as they themselves would wish to be treated.
So this was our set up. Our students in their tutor groups then got to work, honing their own ideas and thoughts around the Golden Rule into a snappy phrase or list of reminders as posters. I’ll reveal what they came up with in a future post.
Ayd Instone, Head of Enrichment and Extra-Curricular