Jesus commands us to look beyond our own needs to actively serve people the way we’d like to be served — to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Apostle Paul elaborates beautifully on this idea in his letter to the Philippians:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)
That’s to be our mindset, he says, because it’s Christ-like. We look to others’ interests because Christ looked to ours — so much so that He didn’t “count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). We love our neighbors because, as we page through Scripture, we see how Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). We sacrifice for others. We give to them and serve them — and we do it in obedience, following the example of Christ, “who became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
What, then, might it look like to love our neighbors, to consistently and humbly look to their interests, to do unto others as we’d have them do unto us? How do we “do unto others” at work and home? What does it look like while interacting on social networks, shopping at the grocery, or driving in traffic?
Awareness of Others
One practical step toward living the Golden Rule in every area of life involves increased awareness. Becoming more attuned to others, we’ll more likely see their needs and serve them well. Look up. Make eye contact. Learn people’s names. Listen to what people are saying and ask questions. Smile. Take note of a need. Follow up.
As we begin to interact more with people and look for ways to serve them — whether strangers or coworkers we’ve brushed past in the hallway — they may take notice of us and respond. Hopefully, they’ll receive our attention with gratitude and respect, but Jesus commands us to “do unto others” regardless of the positive, negative, or ambivalent responses we receive in return. The Lord gives no guarantee that when we treat people the way we would like to be treated, they’ll do the same to us — we simply resolve to look to the interests of others and trust the Lord with the results.
Thankfully, however, the results are often positive.
Do Unto Others in the Workplace
In the workplace, individual employees and leaders can “do unto others” by looking for ways to encourage colleagues, share the Gospel, and choose a moral stance even when tempted to act unethically. But what if you could actually found a company on the principle of the Golden Rule?
John E. Waters launched an automotive company in 2008 to build a hybrid utility van that would replace existing gas-guzzling fleet vehicles. Transitioning fleets to this vehicle would, among other things, save energy, create a cleaner world, and provide jobs. Waters believed this product could improve the quality of life for countless people — the potential impact of the vehicle itself would love his “neighbors” in practical ways.
His company’s sound business plan attracted some of the world’s largest, most powerful automotive suppliers, and Waters realized he had an opportunity to be set apart from the way others operated in his line of business.
His previous workplaces supplied a variety of key components to automotive companies, but during those years his company was “professionally abused,” as companies would leverage the work and investment of Waters’ company but give the production contract to a competitor. Having experienced that kind of “highly dysfunctional, unethical relationship that suppliers have with automakers,” Waters said, “I was determined as an automaker to set up a relationship with suppliers and treat them the way I would have wanted to be treated. We used the word ‘partnerships,’ not ‘suppliers.’ We were a startup company, and these multibillion-dollar supply companies were taking a risk with us. We were humbled by that, so we decided to set up some principles for our working relationships, centered on the principle that we would treat other people the way we’d want to be treated.”
Honesty is the Best Policy
While developing the hybrid vehicle, Water’s team worked closely with the German company Bosch, the world’s largest automotive supplier, whose parts were key to the vehicle’s success. Waters appreciated what a big deal it was for Bosch to invest its own time and money in the development and validation stages of his product, so he gave Bosch full transparency to his company’s daily activities and finances.
“They didn’t trust startups in the past,” Waters explained, “but we treated them as partners. We paid our bills on time. We didn’t play games. We didn’t pit one supplier against another to squeak out a better price. We remembered what it was like to be a supplier to an automaker. We didn’t play all the industry games that others played.”
Waters had already established a high level of trust with Bosch and other “partner” suppliers when the financial world collapsed in fall 2008. During the economic crisis, his company lost more than $100 million of funding. He began to call his suppliers to tell them the funding was now off the table and explain that instead of building 100 prototype vehicles, they would be building only one — and yet, Waters hoped to finish that one drivable show vehicle and unveil it on Capitol Hill the following spring. To do so, he would still need access to high-quality parts for the motor, battery, interiors, body, chassis, and so on — he would need those suppliers to stand by him in hard times.
Recalling the phone calls he had to make to Bosch and others on that memorable Oct. 15, 2008, Waters said, “You could hear a pin drop when they heard the news. They weren’t upset at us; they were as frustrated as we were. Every one of those supply partners empathized.”
Waters remembers well the response from his contact at Bosch when he spoke from the speaker phone in his heavy German accent: “He said, ‘John, you have been honest with us from the beginning of our relationship, and you’ve paid your bills on time. We’ve greatly appreciated the project, and Bosch is committed to this project. We’re not going to go leave you in a lurch. We’re going to work with you and deliver you our first samples in December as we committed to you.’”
Trust God with the Results
“I felt God’s smile when he said that,” Waters continued. “God gets the glory for that. Just obeying His principles — His simple principle of treating others the way they ought to be treated — was coming back to bless us. And those suppliers did move forward with their commitment to supply.”
But Waters didn’t limit the principle of the Golden Rule to the way he interacted with suppliers. As CEO and company president, Waters saw his executive position as an opportunity to give that same respect and honesty to coworkers, competitors, media representatives, the board of directors, investors, and anyone he came into contact with, “trusting the Holy Spirit to work in people’s lives, and trusting God with the results.”
Humility is key, Waters advises. “If you don’t walk with God — if you don’t know you have infinite strength on your side — you have to rely on yourself, and it ends in stress and great disappointment. But if you walk with God, and you know He’s the maker of the mountains and the stars in the heavens, you let Him carry your burden and protect your reputation. And at the end of the day, you’re going to be answering to Him anyway, so you can live your life by submitting to God’s principles — in a relationship with Him that is eternal and matters most — and let the chips fall where they may.”
Do Unto Others in the Neighborhood
When we leave work and head home, we can continue to follow Christ’s command to “do unto others” by serving our neighbors — those in the apartment or house next door — in simple ways, such as house-sitting while someone travels or helping rake leaves. Jessica McGuire described how she and her family one winter shoveled the walkway of a crabby neighbor — the kind of person who makes it difficult to be kind. After they finished shoveling, this neighbor came knocking on their door, teary-eyed and grateful. “Little things soften the big mean ones … sometimes,” McGuire observed.
Michelle DeRusha felt frustrated with her neighbor when he parked his pickup truck in front of her flower garden. She couldn’t weed, prune, or run the sprinklers, nor could she enjoy the garden’s unfolding blooms, so she decided to confront him, carefully planning retaliation if he refused to move. She intended “to yank weeds, toss them into the back of his truck, flip on the sprinkler system and watch as the bed of his pickup turned into a muddy, glumpy mess.”
She tells the end of the story on her blog:
When I marched over to confront my neighbor, he couldn’t have been more gracious.
“I’m so sorry about that,” he said immediately. “We are about to resurface the driveway. Would you mind if I parked the truck there just a few more days?” Not only was he pleasant and apologetic, he also took the time to show Rowan how the fountain in his front yard pumped water. And he invited us inside for a tour of the remodeled kitchen. And he offered free three-day passes for Brad and me to use at his son’s new gym.
Needless to say, I was properly humbled. I’d forgotten one of Jesus’ most important commandments, second only to love God. I’d forgotten to love my neighbor.
During the high school football season, Trish Southard reached out to “Michelle,” a self-professing agnostic who lives with her boyfriend. Southard said that because of Michelle’s living arrangements, many neighborhood women, including those who identify themselves as Christians, don’t even want to be seen talking with her.
Southard, on the other hand, sits right next to Michelle during football games, joins Michelle for hikes, interacts with her on Facebook, meets her for coffee, and invites her to church events such as book studies and the women’s tea. Southard is doing to Michelle what she would want done to her — reaching out in practical ways, showing kindness and love to this woman from whom others tend to shy away.
“Rather than holding Michelle and her boyfriend at arm’s length,” Southard continued, “we have entered into the long, slow pull of intentional, grace-filled friendship that seeks to do nothing more than extend the love of Christ to them. And when the opportunity presents itself, we speak the truth in love.”
Do Unto Others Online
These days we communicate with people online as much as or more than we do in person. We’re interacting with family, friends, and coworkers through texts, email, and social media. What does it look like to treat others the way we’d like to be treated in this virtual context?
Glynn Young works in communications for a large corporation and a foundation with a strong Web presence. For his work with the foundation, Young tweets links to content from bloggers, seeing it as an act of service. “It’s not about me,” he says. “It’s about others. Finding good, encouraging, informative, well-written, important information by others and sharing it. And encouraging people.” He’s found that the simple act of tweeting and sharing the link to someone’s blog post can make that person’s day. Social-media users can do the same with their accounts — finding ways to promote and encourage others.
“His simple principle of treating others the way they ought to be treated was coming back to bless us. And those suppliers did move forward with their commitment to supply.”
– John Waters
On the other hand, not all tweets or emails offer happy opportunities to encourage. Sadly, we must sometimes respond to emails or Facebook messages packed with accusations and volatile words. Young’s corporate work has given him a lot of practice in how to respond. He has learned to resist taking the bait. When possible, he sticks closely to the facts without retaliating or defending himself — a kind of turning the other cheek when the other person picks a fight.
For personal interactions of similar intensity, compose a draft and let it sit for an hour or overnight, if possible. Before clicking “publish” or “send,” consider what you would want said to you (or about you) and how you would want it said. Pray for a loving heart that looks to the interests of others. Then reread the draft and see if it still seems like the right thing to say.
In this online world, we can look for ways to use online tools for good by controlling our tongues and contributing healing, positive words to the steady stream of sound bites — a 21st century way to love our neighbor.
Do Unto Others at Home
Though our families represent the people we love the most, some of us struggle to “do unto others” at home. Even after we’ve learned to smile and ask friends at work how they’re doing, we may struggle to do the same to our kids at a long day’s end. We might be viewed as an attentive, compassionate boss at the office, only to return home and grow withdrawn, flipping on the TV and tuning everyone out.
Yet, when Jesus said to “do unto others,” He didn’t distinguish neighborhood “others” or those in the workplace from the inside-the-four-walls-of-our-house “others.” Our family deserves the same attentiveness as others in the neighborhood or office — if not more. We can start with simple acts of kindness — smiling, asking about a recent project, letting a daughter go first when scrambling for position at the toaster.
Parents can train younger kids to serve food to guests and older family members first, counteracting the human tendency toward selfishness. This kind of training ground prepares kids to head into their schools and look to the interests of others. What begins at home emanates into their worlds both now and in the future.
John Waters seeks to instill the same “do unto others” principle in his kids, just as he did in his company. He’s talked with his kids about how adults and kids alike discount one another, “prioritizing and protecting our own heart and satisfying our own desires with clothes or food or social networks.”
He advises his kids to “enter conversations thinking about others first in interpersonal dynamics.” And as a family, he and his wife look for service opportunities in their local neighborhood and community, as well as the inner city, where they help the homeless by washing feet and handing out food and clothes. “It’s hard to do those things without thinking of others,” Waters explains, “so we subject ourselves to those situations where we abandon our excuses.”
Do Unto Others Everywhere
When we’re maneuvering for the best spot in the Target parking lot, we can look to the interests of others, sacrificing a premium spot to someone else. In the grocery store checkout, we might let the harried mom and her squealing toddler move ahead of us in line, because we’d sure appreciate someone doing that for us.
We can thank our waiters and provide an extra-large tip, bring in the neighbor’s trash cans, hold the door for a stranger at the post office, and drive around town in search of our spouse’s favorite tea. In big ways and small — no matter who the “other” is in our lives — we can learn to look to the interests of others, serving, loving, “doing unto others as we’d have them do to us.”
Then we — like John Waters, Michelle DeRusha, Trish Southard, and Glynn Young — will be different. And that difference has eternal consequences. According to 1 Peter 2:12, when we live properly among our unbelieving neighbors, and when they see our honorable behavior, then they’ll give honor to God when He judges the world. Our obedience to the world’s most familiar rule couldn’t be of greater consequence.
Ann Kroeker is the author of “Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families” (David C. Cook) and “The Contemplative Mom” (Shaw Books).