the one rule

Since I started studying philosophy as an undergrad in college, I’ve always been drawn to the study of ethics. To me, speculation about the nature of reality wasn’t nearly as important as figuring out the best way to treat your neighbor. Ethics to me was philosophy made real. Physicists have been searching for years for a unified field theory in an attempt to explain the four fundamental forces that exist between elementary particles (electromagnetic, gravitational, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force). An admirable endeavor, to be sure. But for a long time, I’ve been thinking about a unified field theory for ethics. It would be wonderful if we could come up with one simple rule, not ten or twenty, that we could easily remember and that would compel us to treat every person, and the planet Earth, with love and respect, regardless of our political or religious beliefs. You’ve probably heard the Great Law of the Iroquois that “In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.” This comes close to the unified ethical law that I’m thinking of, but I’d like to suggest another succint phrase, “Harm no children.” I’m not talking about just physical harm, but emotional harm as well. Children are innocent, and as such, compel us to treat them with love and respect. Think about how the world might change if we followed just this one rule. War would stop immediately so that no one would have to lose a son or daughter, or mother or father. The war orphanages would close for good. We would stop polluting the air, water, and soil of our earth so that our children wouldn’t some day suffer the effects of our actions. We wouldn’t smoke or become intoxicated in front of our children in order to spare them from learning destructive habits. We’d stop dropping bombs indiscriminately, or planting land minds, or manufacturing weapons of any kind. We’d be kind, gentle and forgiving with members of our own family, and with everyone we meet. You can probably come up with a long list of your own. But think; if, with every action you took, you asked yourself, “Would this harm a child?”, your whole ethical behavior would change for the better, and maybe we’d really create the kind of paradise on earth that everyone says they want.


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