The Golden Rule


Zigong said: “I wouldn’t want to do to others what I wouldn’t want them to do to me.” Confucius said: “Ah, Zigong! That’s beyond your reach.”

This is the first of a handful of references to the so-called “Golden Rule” in the Analects. Confucius gives his own explanation in Book 15, Chapter XXIV, ironically in response to Zigong:

Zigong asked: “Is there one single word that can guide you through your entire life?” Confucius said: “How about reciprocity? Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”

Confucius also offers a variant of the rule in his discourse in Book 6, Chapter XXX:

“Good people help others get on their feet before themselves and empower them to achieve their goals before they achieve their own.”

A reference to the rule can also be found buried deep in Chapter II of Book 12:

Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you are away from home, act towards everyone as if you are meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you are conducting a great sacrifice. Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to follow your guidance.”

The Golden Rule is by no means exclusive to Confucius. It can also be found in many other philosophies and religions from China, Greece, India, the Middle East, and other ancient civilizations. Direct links between it and Jesus’s own variation on the same theme in Matthew 7:12 (“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”) were grossly exaggerated by early missionaries and priests to China as part of their feverish attempts to show that there were closer parallels between Confucianism and Christianity than really existed.

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