Monday, July 3, 2006

The golden rule

(I have written briefly on the golden rule before.)

"Therefore 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." Matthew 7:12 (KJV)

I'm reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, and I keep returning to how much of what is called "emotional intelligence" is based on the golden rule and all the spiritual variations on it. I would not have men treat me with contempt, scream at me, or belittle me, but this is modus operandi for so many people with whom I have worked and dealt. The golden rule seems to be essential for a world as crowded, stressed, and overtaxed as ours has become, and yet it sometimes seems to be as endangered as the Micronesian kingfisher—dependent on men to decide to save it.

Saturday, in the course of one expedition to market, I saw three examples of what might be called emotional obliviousness. None of the individuals was doing anything harmful or openly negative; they simply had no idea of how their actions affected others—or perhaps that their actions affected others.

The first was a store employee. I asked him to retrieve a box that was too far back on a high shelf for me to reach. He asked if I wanted just one, and I said, "Yes." He gave me one, I thanked him, and he left. What struck me after a few moments was that he didn't think to pull the two or three remaining boxes to the front for the next person. It's something I would have done instinctively, but it never occurred to him. As I said, this hurt no one, but it is a form of me-centered thoughtlessness that isn't aware on a subconscious level of others and their needs.

Then there was the woman who came to the store with someone else and who was not shopping. It was a busy afternoon; the store was crowded; yet she would park herself in the middle of an aisle in such a way that no one could get around her without having to ask. She would gaze at shelves in a desultory way. At one point, she blocked two doors to a freezer case while three people waited for her to choose something; they didn't know she was window shopping only. After a minute or more, she wandered off slowly; then the people behind her realized they had been waiting politely for no reason. She was simply unaware of what was obvious to me—the people around her and what they wanted.

I came back to my building with a full shopping cart and went in the back door. This double set of doors leads into a short hallway next to the fitness room. Spread inside the inner door and across the hallway, completely blocking it, were two women with two babies, putting their street clothes on over their bathing suits and fussing over the babies. They and their clothes, babies, blankets, and other paraphernalia were sprawled all over the hallway.

It does not seem to have occurred to them that they could have changed clothes and fussed over the babies in the pool/garden area, which is probably a half acre in size and which has chairs, tables, etc. More to the point, I and another resident came in through the door and couldn't go anywhere because they were in the way. The other building resident stepped over them all carefully. That left me with my cart. One woman was on her cell phone (multitasking); the other finally noticed me and signaled to her friend, and they made a narrow path down which I had to struggle with the cart (with the one woman never pausing in her cell phone conversation). As with the others, I don't think their behavior was meant to be malicious, but I cannot imagine the irritation they would have felt if someone had blocked their entrance way to dress.

Given the way people sometimes act, it's perhaps best that all of us don't follow the golden rule. Many people clearly don't want to be treated well at all.

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