We weren't constantly fighting like some kids, but we had our moments of sibling strife. At times, those conflicts would even turn violent, although I always found it hard to hit my brother hard enough to truly hurt him because, well, he's my brother.
Inevitably, our brotherly battles would lead to a conversation with our mother. She always hit us with the same line, no matter what we had been fighting about:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I can tell you that as a kid, the Golden Rule seemed pretty ridiculous. It just didn't make sense to go around doing nice things for other folks, or treating them with respect and kindness when far too often they were trying to treat me like crap. The biggest flaw I saw with the Golden Rule was that there was no guarantee that you would be rewarded for doing the right thing, and even as a child I could see how that was a raw deal.
To be honest, I took some of that attitude about the Golden Rule, and my flawed understanding of what it really means, into my marriage. Like many folks, I struggled with the concept of doing what God called me to do for my wife even if I felt like she wasn't holding up her end of the bargain. Hell, who am I kidding, I still struggle with that issue.
But, while thinking on God's plan for marriage recently, I had an epiphany about the Golden Rule. See, I mistakenly believed that if I wanted my wife to do something for me, I had to do that same thing for her. I thought that if I treated her exactly how I would like to be treated I was fulfilling my responsibilities to her and God. But, while it's obvious that the Golden Rule is about reciprocity, I had the whole concept of what reciprocity means all screwed up.
Quite simply, its not about me, it's about you.
Many people in relationships think that if they treat their spouses or significant others the way they themselves would like to be treated, everything is fine. For example, my wife likes to go out, and she craves time alone away from me and the children. It's high on her list of priorities, and I try to give her that opportunity regularly.
In order to reciprocate, my wife is constantly urging me to take some time for myself, to go out to a movie, or hang out with friends. I do this occasionally, but I don't have nearly the same urge that she does to hit the streets. Therefore, when my wife gifts me with free time, it's far more valuable to her than it is to me. She feels she's making a serious sacrifice and providing me with something more valuable than gold, and I'm often thinking "meh."
I told my wife recently that in order for her to truly be following the Golden Rule, she would have to identify what it is in my life that I value as much as she values her free time. Then she would have to work to provide me with that just as I try to provide her with free time. (Of course this didn't go over so well, and my wife kindly pointed out all the ways I fail to adhere to the Golden Rule. But that's another story for another blog.)
I believe this is true for all relationships, and it's really changed the way I look at situations. It's not enough to treat people the way you want to be treated, it's more key to treat them the way THEY want to be treated. More of us need to challenge ourselves to see the world the way the people we claim to love see it. We have to understand what they value, and why they value it.
Once we do that, then we truly appreciate the impact of our actions. We will understand when our gestures are empty and when they have meaning. We have to commit to true sacrifices, not just sacrifices that make us feel like good people. Relationships, particularly marriages, demand that you "become one" with your partner, and you can never do that unless you're pushing yourself to step into the world as they see it. You can't fall back on the shallow mindset that you're a "good person" or "good spouse" because you think you're good. You have to examine what the person you have bonded yourself to thinks of as good and use that as your measuring stick. And they should do the same for you.
Obviously, this is difficult and it can lead to abuse since some folks have unreasonable and unnatural demands. Satisfying those demands would only lead to heartache and pain. We all have to draw the line somewhere and we have to trust our own discretion on where that line should be.
But most of us have a lot of room to grow if we really want to live by the Golden Rule.