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The Golden Rule Doesn’t Apply to Them, right?


By Donna N. Murphy

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Norman Rockwell found inspiration to paint Golden Rule from the knowledge that some form of this maxim is common to all the world’s major religions. Yet have you ever stopped to think about how utterly radical it is?

It’s radical because our brains are hardwired to think in terms of tribal identities. These identities can lead to relatively harmless rivalries, such as the one between Duke University and the University of North Carolina and its related pranks. Duke supporters stole Michael Jordan’s retired jersey from the rafters of UNC’s Dean Dome and placed it up in Cameron Indoor Stadium. While Blue Devils supporters wouldn’t have liked it if Tar Heels fans stole the memorabilia of one of their legendary basketball alumni, it was all in good fun, right?

Yet tribal identities can also lead to warfare, such as the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics which caused 4.5 to 8 million deaths. Hatred between different identity groups in the U.S. is not typically socially acceptable these days. Yes, it exists, but even white supremacists know they’re not supposed to “say the quiet part out loud” in polite company.

As Ezra Klein noted in Why We’re Polarized, however, there is one form of identity that is fair game for hatred: political identity. There are cable channels, radio personalities and social media stars devoted to making the other side look bad, and they earn loads of money doing it.

When we’re with members of our own political tribe, we resort to ad hominem attacks. “Those Trump supporters, they’re ignorant fools!” “Those Biden supporters, they’re all out to destroy America!” Smug and superior, we bond over insults against Them, who of course are every bit deserving of our scorn. Boy, does it feel good. Let the endorphins flow.

Um, the Golden Rule?  Surely it doesn’t apply to Them, the ones we disagree with politically. Hey, don’t take away our fun!  Don’t plug up this wellspring of psychic pleasure and monetary profit!

But do you want others to think that you’re an ignorant fool, or that you’re out to destroy America? I don’t think so.

Again, the Golden Rule is radical. And so is the mission of Braver Angels—to bring Americans together to heal the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic—at a time when so many forces within U.S. society are tearing us apart. It takes courage! If you’re willing to step forward, Braver Angels will equip you to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Find out how to depolarize fellow tribe members when they launch into those feel-good attacks on Them.  Learn how to listen to and speak to folks who think differently than you do at a Skills for Bridging the Divide Workshop. Get to know different folks, in person or online, in a Red/Blue Workshop or a 1:1 Conversation. If you plan to engage with Them via social media, learn how to do so constructively with our Social Media eCourse. Or get involved in the new initiative to bring our skills to politicians, Braver Politics.

Our organization dares you to take on a broader, Braver Angels identity, as someone who forms relationships with those they disagree with, united in a higher purpose of working together to Build a House United. Folks can and do still maintain partisan loyalties, yet from the expansive vantage of the Braver Angels identity, it’s much easier to follow this Golden Rule: be kind and respectful to others, as you would have them be kind and respectful to you. And when you can pull that off, it makes you feel good about yourself, too.

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2 thoughts on “The Golden Rule Doesn’t Apply to Them, right?”

  1. Thank you for mentioning that we are “hard-wired for tribalism”! This is the heart of the problem, and something not widely known. It warrants more research, investigation & education to understand this inbred trait which I contend is a flaw or at minimum is being widely exploited for personal (& political) gain.

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