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 Olive Branch Or The Sword?

great-sealTo commemorate its newly established nationhood, the continental congress adopted a coat of arms known today as the Great Seal. This emblem portrays a bald eagle holding arrows (symbolizing a readiness for war) with one talon and an olive branch (symbolizing peace) in the other. The eagle’s head points towards the olive branch, symbolizing the nation’s preference for peace. The significance of this allegory, while meaningful for a people, also carries an important application for individuals seeking to follow the Savior.

The Savior taught in word and deed the importance of holding the olive branch of love and mercy. During his sermon on the mount, Christ taught: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. This teaching came in rebuttal to the philosophy “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy”. It’s easy to hate our enemies and retaliate against those who have done us wrong when our predisposition is to react to wrongdoing with the proverbial sword. Mercy is a harder choice than justice.

“May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” Thomas S. Monson (Choices)

The parable of the King and the servant reiterates the importance of being merciful. The king, who was rightfully owed a return for a large sum of money, forgave (olive branch) the pleading servant’s debt. Once forgiven, the servant went and imprisoned (sword) one of his debtors when he was unable to pay back his small amount. The principle of receiving the level of judgement that we resort to in life is depicted in the tragic ending of the parable. The king discovers the servant’s lack of mercy and imposes that same level of judgement on him by casting him into prison.

When presented with the adulteress to be stoned; while in the act of being unjustly arrested; and even during his wrongful execution, Christ held the Olive branch by rescuing and defending the very sinners that we probably would have fought and condemned. While admonishing the early elders of the church to overcome the world, Christ taught: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”. Christ, the eternal judge, whose right it is to fix and wave punishments, chose not to condemn but to liberate and heal. Conversely, we take it upon ourselves to vigilant around with our sword of “justice” by seeking to right the wrongs committed against us and remove the motes from other people’s eyes.

When presented with the heavy or seemingly insignificant scenarios of life, the question can be asked: are we holding an olive branch or a sword…

  • when someone is driving in a manner we disapprove of?
  • when someone close to us says or does something thoughtless or hurtful?
  • when a co-worker, roommate or associate lives by different rules than we do?
  • when we’re communicating a difference of opinion with someone else?
  • when someone else is communicating a difference of opinion with us?
  • when someone isn’t pulling their weight?
  • when someone broke their commitment?
  • when a neighbor is in need of help and we have other things we’d rather do?
  • when an ecclesiastic or secular leader doesn’t meet our expectations?
  • when someone is dressing in a manner that we don’t approve of?
  • when our prejudices seem to be vindicated?
  • when a child is being rambunctious?
  • when we find out our parents aren’t perfect?
  • when someone’s pride shows through?
  • when we see the poor as deserving of their condition?
  • when we covet what the rich have?
  • when we want the youth to experience the hardships that we’ve experienced?
  • when we see the worth of souls as greater within one boundary than another?
  • when someone holds a differing worldview than us?

Are any of these condoning adultery, aggression, dishonesty or any other form of wrongdoing? Of course not. Being merciful towards people doesn’t mean that we reject God’s law in the process. Also, we can’t control the thoughts and actions of other people. All we can control are our own thoughts and actions. Preferring the olive branch over the sword will make our responses to life’s tests become easier to endure and will fill our souls with peace and love.