The Beggar & The Three Travelers: Adding To The Golden & Platinum Rules

Beggar WaterThere’s an ancient proverb about The Beggar and The Three Travelers. It’s a hot, dry day. A man is begging in the streets of a city. Another man, dressed in a yellow robe, is traveling through and sees the beggar. Before the beggar could ask for anything, the man gives him the last of his favorite nuts and then continues on his way. A while later, a second traveler dressed in a gray robe sees the beggar and asks what he wants. The beggar says that above all, he would like some wine to help him cool down from the day’s heat. The traveler obliges, gives him wine and continues on his way. A third traveler, dressed in a white robe, assesses the needs of the man, gives him a drink of water and helps him find a continual source of water before continuing on his way. The beggar was allergic to nuts and would have died if he had eaten them. He was also dying of dehydration and the alcohol would have sped up his demise. What he truly needed wasn’t what another person wanted for him nor was it what he wanted for himself. He simply needed water. 

This proverb isn’t ancient. I just made it up. But it illustrates a timeless principle – the need to rise above the limited perspectives of desires when serving others and instead look at needs. The story depicts three ways which we can treat others:

  • The Golden Rule: I will treat others the way I want to be treated.
  • The Platinum Rule: I will treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The Celestial Rule: I will treat others the way they ought to be treated.

The Golden Rule is commendable. My one year old son recently offered me a soggy animal cracker that he was sucking on with an innocent “It’s good, you’ll like it” expression on his face. His intentions were good. He wanted to share his joy with me. I admit – when I give gifts – I do the same thing. I often give others what I want them to have rather than what they want. I wonder how often they perceive my offerings with the same humored disgust that I felt with the soggy animal cracker. There’s a better way to give.

Living the Platinum Rule means that we escape our own self-centered perspective and see the thoughts, emotions and desires of others from their perspective. Once we do this, we are better equipped to empathize and provide others with what they want. When it comes to harmless offerings, the Platinum Rule is the way to go. But it definitely has its shortfalls. When what a person wants for themselves is unhealthy – physically, emotionally or spiritually – then we should not be giving that person that thing. There’s an even better way to give in these cases.

The Celestial Rule means that we perceive others through the lens of the higher law. The higher law requires that we treat others the way that they ought to be treated within the bounds of tactful, loving kindness. For example, when someone is going through a difficult time, some people will express their sympathies in ways that make it about themselves rather than the person going through the difficult problem (Golden Rule). Others will act as enablers and give the person attention in a way the person wants but this is unhealthy when it feeds negative energy and grants permission to the person to see their problems through the lens of victimhood or helplessness. This is an example of how the Platinum Rule falls short. The Celestial Rule helps us to see the struggling person through the lens of love and the circumstances surrounding their struggles through the lens of truth. When that happens we can, like Christ, empathize with their pain and provide empowering guidance for healing – all in a spirit of love.

The Endurance, Shackleton & Finding Strength In Tribulation

the-enduranceThe Word

My favorite mission companion, Elder Ieremia, was a soft-spoken, faithful and courageous polynesian from Oahu. We served together in a rough part of the Washington DC area known for it’s high crime and drug rates. One day, Elder Ieremia and I were walking passed a group of about seven or eight young men who were getting high on the stairs of a building’s entrance. The alpha male, sitting in the middle of them, offered up his hand and said “You two want something that’ll make you feel real good?” To this my companion responded, “Na, we’ve got something better.” The young man jumped to his feet – “What ya’ll got?!?!” Without skipping a beat Elder Ieremia held up his scriptures and exclaimed emphatically – “The word!”  I’ve never witnessed such a righteous roast. The guys’ friends all roared “Ohhhhhhhhhh…!!!” while covering their mouths and pointing their fingers at him. I’ll never forget the shocked look on this poor kid’s face; that he just got burned by a “Jesus Boy”.

The Savior taught:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

How often do we seek relief from life’s trials through the temporary, silly or harmful means of the world? Contrast those occasions to how often we seek relief through the lasting and healing means of the Word. Man’s solutions to hardship include escape and dulling life’s pains through artificial means. God’s solution to our hardship is to come to Him and let Him carry our load. Hardship is a necessary part of life. We can’t learn or grow without it. But just because hardship is necessary that doesn’t mean that life has to be hard.

The word “comfort” is derived from Latin and means to support, console and strengthen. Seeking comfort, or strength, isn’t passive. It doesn’t mean removing or dulling our pain like a sort of emotional anesthetic. It requires action, movement, progress, patience, faith and endurance.

The Endurance

One of my favorite stories about finding strength in difficult times is about the Antarctic voyage of the Endurance. The year was 1914. Ernest Shackleton was an explorer who wanted to lead a British expedition across the Antarctic continent – a feat which had never been done before. To advertise help for this mission he allegedly placed an ad in the newspaper which read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Over 5000 people responded to this ad. He and 27 others along with 69 dogs embarked on the adventure aboard a ship appropriated named The Endurance. Before they could reach the shore of Antarctica they got stuck in the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. For months they tried to free themselves from the ice but eventually the ship was crushed and sank. They were stranded on a large, flat sheet of ice (aka floe) and slowly drifted further from land.

After several failed attempts to reach land on foot they set up a long-term camp to wait for the ice to melt so that they could reach land by several rafts they salvaged from The Endurance before it sank. Over this period of time – boredom, hunger, homesickness and cold challenged them daily. Food became so scarce that eventually they had to turn to penguins, seals and their own dogs for survival. Rations grew smaller and smaller to the point that bone broth became a delicacy.

Finally, months later, when the ice pack began to melt and the floe their camp was on was too small to fit on, they put their rafts in the water and attempted to row towards the closest island. The flows were breaking up but with the movement of the sea, the floes would constantly collide with each other which created constant danger for them and their little rafts. For days they tried rowing their way through the crushing ice. They’d constantly have to bale water out of the rafts to keep them from sinking. Once they found a floe big enough for them to fit they’d pile on top to rest but the floes were breaking so fast that they couldn’t stay on them long enough to rest before they had to get back in the water.

After finally escaping the crushing ice, they set sail for Elephant Island. Never before had man placed foot on this pile of ice and pebbles. Here the team set up another long-term camp as Shackleton and a few others embarked on what they saw as their best shot for reaching rescue. Their aim was a whaling station island called South Georgia. Fierce winds and waves, strong currents, some amazing navigational skills and 800 miles later, they finally reached the island.

They barely made it ashore but they landed on the opposite side of the island and their raft was in no condition to take them any further. Shackleton and two of the crew had to make it on foot to the other side of the island to reach rescue. It was unexplored, mountainous, rocky and icy terrain. They drove nails from the raft through their shoes so that they could climb the ice. They were in a race for time, not only because of their starving and exposed companions who were depending on them but also because they didn’t have the means to stay warm when the temperature dropped at night. As their march progressed they would climb cliffs only to find out that their was no way down on the other side and so they’d have to climb back down and find another way. Finally, after one of these failed attempts on a high mountain Shackleton pointed out that, due to the dropping temperature, going back down where they came from wasn’t an option so the only option they had was to slide down the mountain and hope that there weren’t any cliffs or sharp rocks at the bottom. After miraculously surviving the slide down, they soon found the station.

The station foreman received a knock at the door. When he opened it he saw three men with long hair, long beards, ragged clothes and filthy faces. When he realized who they were his tears wouldn’t let him speak. Several years had passed since the voyage began. Everyone assumed they were dead.

Our hardships have differing sources including our choices, others’ choices, accidents or natural causes. Regardless of the source, God will provide comfort and strength to endure and overcome those hardships if we will turn to him.

Shackleton discovered the support which God can provide during hardship when he later wrote:

“I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

Attempts to cross South Georgia have been repeated several times since Shackleton’s rescue mission. Each one with the benefits of planning, rest, better equipment and the means for food and warmth. Those who cross the island admit that it would have taken a miracle to survive the trek. I don’t want to spoil the whole story of the Endurance so I’ll stop here.

Gethsemane

While those on the Endurance expedition suffered greatly, there isn’t a greater example of suffering than what the Savior experienced in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered for all of our pains and sins. So great was His pain that He bled from every pore. The Savior’s example in the garden teaches important truths about how we can find strength during our suffering:

“Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed.” (Matthew 26:38, 40-45)

The Savior ended up asking his disciples several times to stay awake with him but they kept falling asleep. There are several key points I’d like to point out from this scripture:

  1. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask for the help of others when he truly needed it. Are we afraid?
  2. How often is the Savior asking for our help but we are spiritually asleep?
  3. Jesus prayed.

 

When sore trials came upon you,

Did you think to pray?

When your soul was full of sorrow,

Balm of Gilead did you borrow

At the gates of day?

(Did You Think To Pray, Hymn 140)

Despite the failings of Christ’s disciples, strength was provided from the other side.

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22 – 43)

Note how the pains and hardships of the atonement weren’t removed by this heavenly help. Rather, Christ was strengthened; much like the people of Alma who, while in bondage, did not have their burdens removed right away but rather “the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” And this because they “poured out their hearts to him.”

When we find ourselves alone; in a dark, cold place spiritually or emotionally – when we turn to the Word. To God. When our voyage in life is directed heavenly homeward we will receive strength from the other side.