I believe in the Golden Rule, the simple directive to treat others as you would have them treat you. Philosophers and leaders from Moses to Muhammad to Confucius to Jesus to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Mother Teresa advocated the need to treat every single person in a fair and humane manner. Each of these teachers was deeply committed to this ethic and understood its impact on the welfare not only of their followers, but of the entire human race. The Golden Rule crosses boundaries of religious and cultural differences; indeed, it allows us to reach across the chasms created by our differences to remind us not only of the common ground we share, but of the gifts we have to offer each other.
I grew up the seventh child in a family of eleven children in the little town of North Syracuse, New York, where Orange fever rages during March Madness, where families head to Green Lakes State Park to hike and swim, where Heid’s Hotdogs in the neighboring town of Liverpool remains an institution. My parents, Wally and Betty DeGroot, reside still in the white house with blue shutters on Wells Ave. West where they raised their bustling brood, where they did their part every day to teach the edict to treat others with kindness and respect.
My parents’ teachings went beyond the childhood directive to “play nice.” And in a big family, playing nice can be challenging enough; in a big family, it’s easy to resent what you think you lack, from privacy and space to expensive clothes or toys. Hand-me-downs are handed down, toys are fixed rather than thrown away, and you learn young to get to the dinner table on time. Not that food was lacking in our house…Mom used to serve dinners in shifts: one for the younger kids and another an hour later for my father and brothers when they came home from the U-Haul station in Syracuse that my dad ran for years.
Now my siblings and I are adults and have scattered throughout the East Coast and to cities like Chicago, Des Moines, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Dallas, it’s clear that our parents’ loving ways despite our numbers and (many!) individual trials through the years taught us much more than how to get along with others. Some of us, myself included, have married across religious or racial lines, and my parents have shown, time and time again, the good that has come from their ability not only to accept these new branches of their family’s tree, but to embrace the individuals who have contributed so much to their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren. Treating others as you would have them treat you benefits everyone involved. So play nice, they’d say. And then sit back and see the good you’ve done—for others as well as yourself.
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