What If We Applied the Golden Rule?

As if I wasn’t already sad and angry about children being separated from their parents at the border, this viral photo of a Honduran toddler crying while her mother was being searched touched a very personal nerve. The child reminds me of a younger version of my six-year-old granddaughter Selena. Every time I see the photo, I see Selena, and I imagine the anguish I would feel if she or any of my grandchildren were forcibly separated from their parents with no clear indication of when or how (or even if) they will be reunited. (For the story of the photo and John Moore, the photographer, see this article.) (Update, June 22, 2018: The child in this photo was not in fact separated from her mother, but they are both still being detained.*)

Here are just a few of the other things I’ve been pondering as I read about and watch the awfulness that’s happening on our southern border:

The Golden Rule in one form or another is common to all major world religions:

  • Do to others as you would have them do to you (Christianity)
  • Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Buddhism)
  • This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do to you (Hinduism)
  • No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Islam)
  • What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire law; all the rest is commentary (Judaism) (See “The Universality of the Golden Rule in the World Religions.”)

One of the reasons the Old Testament gives for caring for the strangers or aliens living in the land is that the children of Israel were once strangers themselves. The Old Testament and Jesus and Paul in the New Testament all say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (in fact, Paul says this immediately following the passage in Romans 13 so inappropriately used by Attorney General Sessions). The writer to the Hebrews teaches that we should care for those in prison as if we were in prison with them, and those who are mistreated as if we ourselves were suffering. These are all variations of the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. What might it look like if we made a good faith effort to apply the Golden Rule to public policy, especially immigration policy?

I am frustrated beyond my ability to articulate by all the lies, obfuscation, disingenuousness, misinformation, and dissembling being propagated and repeated by various officials in the administration, especially the president himself. One of the most egregious is blaming the Democrats when his party is in control of Congress and he could personally reverse the “zero-tolerance” decision that has led to family separation.

Previous administrations struggled with the illegal immigration issue, and in their efforts to stem the flow didn’t always act humanely either.However, it feels to me like the current level of rhetoric against immigrants (even ones who want to come legally) is much greater than before, often preying on people’s fears of “the other.” This recent New York Times article helped me understand what happened before and what is happening now: How Trump Diverged from Other Presidents and Embraced a Policy of Separating Migrant Families.” 

A recent Politifact article also helps to explain the difference between what President Obama did and what is happening now. And here’s another one from NPR: “What We Know: Family Separation and ‘Zero-Tolerance’ at the Border.”

Administration officials have openly described the practice as a deterrent, but what if instead, we addressed the core reasons so many people try to come to the United States? How might the U.S. nonviolently and compassionately help to address some of the root causes of people becoming desperate enough to risk everything, including family separation, to make the journey? We know that many if not most of the countries that undocumented immigrants are fleeing are poor and violent (by the way, I hate the term “illegal alien” because it feels so dehumanizing). As one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, with a history of welcoming immigrants (“Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”), what if the U.S. worked with other nations to create a better and more equitable world instead of alienating other democracies and selfishly proclaiming “America first”? We all live on this planet together and are interconnected more than ever before. What hurts one hurts us all, and what helps one helps us all. A Golden Rule philosophy makes so much more practical and moral sense to me that a zero-sum philosophy where there always have to be winners and losers.

Quite honestly, I don’t have the answer to the immigration issue, but I know that the current family separation practice is not the answer and it is not right. It often feels like this is one of those intractable and hopelessly complex issues to which there is no resolution. I think I understand why so many risk everything to try to come to the U.S., but then I also wonder why so many Americans don’t want them to come, sometimes even if they come in legally acceptable ways? The reasons often given include not wanting to give away (or share) limited resources to people who haven’t worked for them, protecting our jobs, or preventing crime – even though the truth is that most immigrants are hard-working, often do jobs that many Americans don’t want, and commit crimes at a lower rate than the rest of the population. I also suspect that a sizable number of Americans are motivated, perhaps despite themselves, by xenophobia (fear and distrust of that which is foreign or strange). Why, really, is it such a bad thing if more people come seeking the same better life our own ancestors did 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 years ago?

If we assume that the idea of countries with borders is a good thing, and believe that countries have the right and responsibility to control who and how many come in, then what is the best way to control those borders and protect national interests? What can we do that is more in keeping with the Golden Rule than separating families, criminalizing people seeking a better life or fleeing war and violence, and building more literal and figurative walls between us and and the rest of the world? I don’t have good answers, but I know we have to try harder to find ones that reflect our national values and the values of our faith. I am horrified and heartsick by the current situation and believe we must do better.

*Addendum: A clarification in the interest of truth. I learned that the toddler was NOT in fact separated from her mother, even though they are both being detained for crossing the border illegally. Some people seem to be suggesting that the fact that the child was not separated from her mother negates the value and credibility of the photo and condemns anyone who uses it to put a face on the human tragedy happening at the border. I am very happy that this child and her mother are together, but the truth is that 2,000+ children are still separated from their families and who knows how long it will take until they are reunited or IF they ever will be. 

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