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I’ve been thinking a lot about an old saying lately: “Before you judge a man (or woman), walk a mile in his shoes.”
In other words, to understand someone’s road in life, you and I need to understand the experiences and thoughts that formed it.
This is the heart of the 4th road out of anxiety and depression. You may have heard it put this way:
Follow the Golden Rule.
It’s so key to human nature that many faiths and philosophies have taught it through the ages.
Aristotle said: “We should behave to friends as we would wish friends to behave to us.”
Confucius said: “What you do not want one to do to yourself, do not do to others.”
In Hinduism, it’s expressed this way: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
Judaism: “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary.”
In the Christian Bible, Jesus said: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
This just makes practical sense. We can all see the logic in giving others the same respect and concern that we ourselves would want to receive.
Another term for this is empathy – walking a mile in others’ shoes.
And apparently the Golden RULE is meant to be applied “in everything” – to every person and in every situation.
I see two ways to apply it when we suffer from depression or anxiety.
The first is how we apply it toward others.
We often create stress and conflict by assuming negative things about the people around us. We claim we can read their minds, seeing all the bad stuff they’re thinking about us.
But the Golden RULE should put a stop to that. Instead, we would try to believe the best of each other, because we want others to believe the best of us.
More specifically, we can ask questions like:
- Do I really know what this person is thinking, or am I making assumptions that I wouldn’t want others to make about me?
- How is he/she seeing this situation? Do they have a different perspective, different information, or a different need?
- Am I describing this person fairly, or am I insulting him/her just to make myself feel better?
- Would everyone else see this person in the same negative way? Why or why not?
- How would I want to be treated if I were in the other person’s shoes right now?
- Do my rules or standards for others treat them in a humane, dignified way? Would I apply the same rule/standard toward people I really loved or cared about?
- If I want to change things with someone else, what strategies should I use? Which would I myself more likely respond to: insults or praise?
- What would happen if I chose to treat others with compassion and understanding rather than judgment?
- What would happen if I chose to forgive rather than hold grudges?
So first, we apply the Golden RULE outward, toward others.
Second, we apply it inward, toward ourselves.
In the Christian Bible, Jesus stated it like this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
This strikes squarely at the most debilitating of depressive symptoms: poor self-worth. We often judge ourselves as shameful and worthless.
But the Golden RULE works in both directions. We should love and respect ourselves as we do others.
So we can ask questions like,
- Can I treat myself as a friend I care about and respect?
- Can I accept myself as a “work in progress” rather than a failure?
- What would happen if I stopped focusing on what I did wrong and started working on what I can do differently in the future?
I’m not saying we should always think the best of our actions and choices. Sometimes we act wrongly and hurt others. We should feel regret when that happens.
But the depressed mind often turns that regret onto self rather than the actions.
So instead of saying, “I really hate the way I yelled at you yesterday,” we say, “I really hate myself for doing that. I’m such a scumbag.”
But following the Golden RULE means that, because we respect others, we will regret hurting them. And because we respect ourselves, we will try to change our hurtful ways. So, both the inner and outer applications inspire us to do better in the future.
My main point is this: the Golden RULE extends love and compassion towards others and ourselves.
Albert Schweitzer said, “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
Now that we’ve learned the four main roads out of anxiety and depression, the next step is to learn to use these four principles against the negative thought patterns we see in these disorders. That’s the topic of my next series.
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 Confucius, Analects, 15:23, 6:28
 Mahabharata 5:1517
 Udanavargu, 5:18, Tibetan Dhammapada, 1983.
 The Sunnah (from the Hadith), publ. 1975.
 Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a, as cited in Glatzer, 1969, p. 197.
 Matthew 7:12 (New International Version)
 Matthew 22:37-39 New International Version (NIV)
Dr. Pamela Coburn-Litvak has published research articles on exercise and stress in Neuroscience and Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior. Her latest book, Leaving the Shadowland of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, was published in 2020.
After receiving a Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she served as both Assistant Professor of Physiology & Pharmacology and Special Assistant to the Vice President for Research Affairs at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. She then joined the Biology department at Andrews University and developed courses in human physiology as well as the neurobiology of mental illness. She also founded Rock @ Science LLC, a company that specializes in health and science education and web development. She co-developed the brain and body physiology segment of the Stress: Beyond Coping seminar with its creator, Dr. William “Skip” MacCarty, DMin.
Dr. Coburn-Litvak currently lives in California with her husband. Their two daughters are mostly grown and attending school elsewhere.
When she’s not studying or teaching about stress, she enjoys stress-relieving activities like puttering around the garden, taking nature walks with her family, knitting, cooking, and reading.