Published: August 12, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Every time I look at Emancipation Oak, on the grounds of Hampton University in Virginia, I think of the time I spent talking to students and teachers.

A conversation with Dr. Freddye Davy of Hampton’s Honors College led to her using my What Do You Stand For? questionnaire in an essay contest for the school’s annual President’s Award. All thirty-two submissions expressed an uncommon level of candor and commitment to a higher standard and service beyond their own ambitions.

What struck me most about Courtney Thompson’s essay was her reflective look at the Golden Rule and how we can all strive to do better. When I asked her what stood out about her essay after re-reading, she confided, “Why didn’t it dawn on me sooner?”

“‘Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.’ These words have echoed in my mind since early childhood. Through the years, I have made serious attempts to follow the Golden Rule, endeavoring to set the pendulum of reciprocity in motion and striving to maintain its constant movement.

“I struggled continuously to extend a mutual kindness to others, usually commensurate with the kindness that I received. I always believed that I understood the full import of these words, until recently.

“In December, I visited Mombasa, Kenya, a country rich in land, culture, and tradition. The roads were filled with vendors, consumers, workers in transit, tourists, the poor, and the homeless. The first days, Hashim, the friend that I traveled to visit, gave willingly to many suffering from severe conditions of destitution and utter helplessness, often exchanging larger bills for easy-to-dispense change.

“After observing his daily routine of selflessly giving, I reflected upon the ideal symbolized in the counsel ‘do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.’ Before I could censor my thoughts, inwardly I questioned, ‘But what about when others are unable to do unto you?’ The answer came as Hashim’s willingness to give continued over the course of the remaining weeks. ‘You must give to the world more than the world gives to you.’ Indeed, this was the real essence represented by the Golden Rule.

“In that experience, I learned more than I had in a lifetime about the gift of giving. I have since accepted and faithfully practiced the true application of this principle in my life with one modification. Though the change is a single word, the difference is profound. I have resolved that for the rest of my life, not only will I do unto others; I will do unto others, unconditionally.”


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