Mitch didn’t do well in algebra. Maybe it was because of the trauma of attending a new school after having to move during the summer between eighth and ninth grade. Maybe it was because he didn’t get along well with his teacher. Maybe it was the “new math.” For whatever reason, he got a D in algebra–the lowest grade he’d ever received.
But that algebra class was not completely lost on Mitch. Years later, he remembered that the most important equation in algebra is the “equals” sign!
The mathematical formula on the left side of the equals sign must equal whatever the formula is on the right side of it. Anything unequal meant a wrong answer.
Now the equals sign had become interesting for him again; not for math, but in his personal and work relationships.
When attending a workshop Mitch heard the presenter talk about the Golden Rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”The speaker stated that the word “as” was essentially the same as the equals sign and, suddenly, That long-forgotten algebra principle flashed into Mitch’s brain.
Like a crazy cartoon image from the Beatle’s movie, “Yellow Submarine,” he started seeing the equals sign between himself and his neighbors at work, home, and everywhere.
That was different from his old understanding of the Golden Rule. He’d been raised to love his neighbor more than himself.
But the big breakthrough came when he understood that the Golden Rule could be flipped, just like in algebra!
Both sides were equal! Now he understood that he was to love himself as much as he loved his neighbor.
For a guy who was criticized as a child with “Quit feeling sorry for yourself!” and “Do you think the whole world centers around you?” this was a new thought. Even in his youth group as a kid, he’d been taught that the key to JOY was spelled J-O-Y: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.
He didn’t disagree with the Jesus part, but felt pretty messed over regarding the “Others first” and “Yourself last” teaching. That had set up so many dysfunctional relationships in his life.
Now he understood that happiness could be spelled either OY! or YO! because of the equals sign, which is the “as” in “love your neighbor AS yourself!” The formula algebraically was either O=Y or Y=O.
From now on, he would try to picture a big equals sign between himself and every other person, group, or organization in the world.
Wikipedia says the Golden Rule is “The ethic of reciprocity and is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights.” When both sides in any situation are treated equally, healthy results have a chance to grow and prosper.
When the rule is broken to say “Love your neighbor more than yourself” trouble begins. Self can quickly be lost in taking care of Neighbor, and healthy love ceases. A healthy love of neighbor requires loving yourself—the equals sign.
An example of inequality in business is the saying, “The customer is always right!” We know that is not true; the customer isn’t always right and doesn’t come first one hundred percent of the time.
A better way of bringing the equals sign back into play is to the saying, “In public, the customer is number one. In private, I am (or we are) number one.” At least then we understand that we have a place to personally invest in ourselves, which will help us serve the customer without becoming cynical and bitter, or controlling and manipulative.
Violating the Golden Rule the other way is bad too. Loving Yourself while using, conning, or oppressing your Neighbor backfires, too. The Neighbor will not be truly loved and will disconnect from you in heart, mind, word, and, eventually, indeed, by ending your relationship completely.
In marriage, parenting, and work relationships, we do well to do as Mitch began to do–keep an equals sign between ourselves and each of our neighbors. This will keep us from becoming either doormats or tyrants. It will bring love opportunities into all our relationships. It will allow us to lead with authenticity, empathy, and trust.
Argh #9 Discussion Time:
- When is it okay to feel sorry for yourself? Why or why not?
- What’s the downside of not feeling sorry for yourself sometimes?
Your comments are super welcome!
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