How many 'commandments' do you need?


Regardless of your religious persuasion most people would find it difficult to argue with the Ten Commandments.  Thou shalt not kill, steal and whatever the other eight are, make for pretty good rules to live by so you may wonder how it is that they set a poor example by my reckoning.

The reason is that most people can’t remember them.  And the reason for that, of course, is that 'ten' is a pretty difficult number of rules to remember.  The message has been lost because it has become over-complicated.  The more rules we make up the more room for contradiction and confusion – is it “Thou shalt not kill” or “an eye for an eye”?  What is needed is one rule… a golden rule that can guide decision making regardless of the circumstance and fortunately it exists.

Star Trek fans know it as the Prime Directive – the one rule that supersedes all others. (Yes I know the Omega Directive sometimes supersedes the Prime Directive – just leave it alone for now Trek nerds.)  In Star Trek the rule states that Starfleet Officers cannot interfere with the development of another culture.  For doctors and surgeons the rule is “First, do no harm” and for boy scouts it’s “to do my best to help others, whatever it costs me.”

Golden rules guide our decision making because while they look simple on the surface there is a hidden depth and substance to their meaning.  It is why they are such brilliant examples of communication and also why the “Ten Commandments” approach is so bad.

Ironically, despite the importance attached to the Ten Commandments and the subsequent attention it gets, Christianity also has a golden rule.  It’s a golden rule that pretty much all major religions have in common and it is this:


'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.'  Matthew 7:1


'Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.' Analects 12:2


'Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.'  Udana-Varga 5,1


'This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.' Mahabharata 5,1517


'No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.' Sunnah


'What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.' Talmud, Shabbat 3id


'Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.' Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien


'That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself.' Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

Put simply; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  It’s a simple and profound golden rule upon which much of our society is based.  It is a uniting principal across most religions and it makes you wonder why those religions bother with all the other stuff?  Is it to confuse, to contradict or simply to make us forget what we have in common?  Regardless of the reasons those are the outcomes.

Leaders should heed the lessons of golden rules as a means of uniting both people and purpose.  As the Talmud says a good golden rule “is the entire law; all the rest is commentary” and businesses that are unwilling or unable to articulate their golden rules will be forgotten far more quickly than the Ten Commandments. 

Brett Rutledge