“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12 (Common English Bible)
Recently I found something on Facebook that may interest you. “’I suffered, therefore you must suffer, too’ is such an odd mindset to carry through life. I hear it all the time when people defend unpaid internships, awful entry-level jobs, student debt, etc. Whatever happen to wanting the next generation to have it better than you did?” I don’t recall the source of these words. I simply took a screenshot of them to share. What would be fascinating is to listen to how these words land upon the mind and hearts of others. My guess – and this is a guess – is that our response to these words will demonstrate whether we live by an ethic of fairness or an ethic of generosity. My contention is that those who live by an ethic of generosity are the happiest.
There is much that is unfair in life. It is unfair that an apple is a better diet choice than a blueberry muffin. It is unfair that some have a greater fluency with languages than others. More deeply, it is unfair that some children must struggle with cancer and other illness while – fortunately – a vast number of children will mature into adulthood with health. This week I read in the news of an airline employee who noticed a pregnant woman experiencing considerable discomfort while waiting to board her flight. The airline employee asked the person at the head of the line if he would graciously permit the pregnant women to board first. His response, “Tell her to wait in line like everyone else!” Upon hearing this, another man near the front of the line invited the woman to take his place.
What is remarkable in this story is that the man who gave-up his place in line walked to the rear. Apparently, he sought to avoid anyone else behind him making an argument of unfairness. Who does that? Perhaps he would answer that this decision – the decision to put others first – makes the world a little more pleasant, a little brighter, and increases his own happiness that he can make that happen. There is an incredible force that is unleashed in the world by such a generosity of spirit, a force of such immense warmth that it is life giving to others. It reminds me of a professor in my graduate studies that said that when the people of God fear scarcity, fear that there is not enough “good stuff” to go around, we become a mean people, struggling with others for our fair share.
There are destructive forces that are loose in the world, forces of anger, fear, resentment, and jealousy. Additionally, misfortune falls upon every one of us from time to time. Car accidents, natural disasters, and theft are ubiquitous. Amy Morin writes that, “We all experience pain and sorrow in life. And although sadness is a normal, healthy emotion, dwelling on your sorrow and misfortune is self-destructive.”[i] Matthew’s Gospel offers an alternative. Focus less on yourself and focus more on adding value to others. Treat others, as you would like to be treated. Such daily deposits into the lives of other people, strengthening them and encouraging them is one of the world’s oldest and best rules. Practice this rule regularly in your life and you will discover that it is golden.
[i] Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014) 18.