The Golden Rule
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno is past your bedtime, but the show is pertinent
to what I want to talk about today. There is sometimes a segment on
the show called ‘Jaywalking’ where Jay wanders around on California streets
and college campuses and
asks questions of people that he meets. You know, questions like:
“Who is the current president of the United States. What country is
America’s neighbour to the south? What is bigger, the sun or the moon?”
What makes the segment
both funny and tragic is that so many people are so clueless. I was
almost going to say ‘stupid’ but that wouldn’t necessarily be true, at least
Yes, there are stupid people. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is another
one of those things that we have no control over and have to accept.
Stupidity is not a choice. It simply means ‘slow to learn.’ Slow
learners are usually born that way and can’t help being what they are.
So let’s not dwell on them, because they aren’t the problem. Let’s talk about
ignorant people instead. ‘Ignorant’ is such a misused word that I feel
I have to point out that all it means is ‘lacking education or knowledge.’
That, unlike stupidity, is not an affliction. Rather, it is a condition
that something can be done to rectify.
What difference does it really make whether someone can answer the questions
that Leno poses? Will it affect their ability to make a living, raise
their children or generally to be productive members of society? Maybe
not. Maybe so. On a superficial level, many of the billions of
facts, theories and ideas that make up the universal body of knowledge, are
only moderately useful. No-one could possibly know everything.
But I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to know everything. I think
I know a lot, about a lot of different things, but you have also heard me
say, many times, that the only thing I know for sure is how little I know.
But I try to learn. I need to learn. We all need to learn.
Knowledge is not only important to develop and maintain the skills that
you need to earn your daily bread or to pass tests at school. Knowledge
provides context. In order to see where the human race is going, you
need to know where it has been. Before you suggest that something should be
mandated or outlawed, you should know whether it has been tried before and
what the outcome was. As the adage goes: “Those who do not learn from
history are doomed to repeat it.”
Information is more readily available today than it has ever been at any
time in human history. Books are cheap. The internet is an incredibly
rich source of research material and history. There is absolutely no
excuse for anyone not to have at least some rudimentary knowledge about the
human race and what makes us tick, about our local environs and beyond into
space, about philosophies that have shaped the human race for better or worse
and, not least, about how we can all best get along and make our world a
Yes, Zachary, there is knowledge to be tapped everywhere, more than you
will ever be able to assimilate. I hope that you will read everything
you can -- history, philosophy, religion, science -- everything. Explore
the world and learn about everything in it. Do all this, but don’t
ever forget the one idea that just might be the most important notion ever
“What’s that,” you ask.
I’ll tell you: It’s something called the Golden Rule
and it very simply exhorts us to “Do unto others as you would have them
do unto you.”
I didn’t come up with that idea, it’s been around for millennia.
It just hasn’t caught on as it should have. Let’s do our part to have
that elegantly simple idea take root and spread throughout the world.
If we all minded our own business, treated others kindly, stopped trying
to steal from one group to satisfy another, celebrated our similarities
rather than exaggerated our differences, then the world would be a much better
I think so.
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