Our first introduction to moral and ethical behavior is most often some version of The Golden Rule. It might be as simple as your mom asking you, “How would you feel?” after you have taken a toy away from your sister.
And that’s really the essential question isn’t it? How would you feel if it were you? In this way our guide to right action becomes empathy. We imagine what another person is feeling by listening to our own feelings. We make the connection between their actual experience and how we might experience a similar situation.
So we learn to not do to others what we don’t want done to us. And we learn to do for others what we ourselves desire done for us. We recognize that other people are people just like us and that they feel the same sorts of things we feel. Their humanity is just as central to the situation as ours.
Some people are able to put all of this aside and focus solely on their own interests. They believe this is a sign of strength. Some claim it is leadership. Long arguments are made to justify and side step our fundamental moral obligations to others. Every effort is made to keep others out of the circle of consideration and to undermine their essential humanity. But being selfish doesn’t increase our worth and long arguments cannot take away another’s essential humanity.
After all, the question remains: How would you feel?
How would you feel if you were homeless?
How would you feel if needed to eat but had no money to pay for food?
How would you feel if needed help getting your laundry done or just getting cleaned up?
How would you feel if others treated you like trash?
How would you feel if people were afraid of you because of your race or religion or language?
Once you know how you would feel then you will also know what to do and what to not do. And you will be living out the first lesson of a good life.