I often hear that people like Jesus’ encapsulation of the Law and Prophets in what has become known as the Golden Rule from Matthew 7. Or at least they like the sentiment behind it but wonder whether it is even able to be put into action. The idealism of the Rule appears far too hard to attain and, in the end, the very thing that is appealing about it means that it is rejected as being too idealistic. After all we all tend to operate with a base degree of self-interest that is hard to give up. Therefore, we tend to water down the Golden Rule to something of a silver rule: “Do no harm” and give up on the shinier—and harder—implications of the rule, like ‘Love your neighbour.’ We take the uplifting of others to merely keeping everyone at the same level. This is perhaps especially true of us as Australians, where we even coined the phrase ‘tall poppy syndrome’ to describe the constant levelling out of society according to something akin to the silver rule.
As cynical of human nature as this sounds, it often seems to come about from a complete lack of any tangible examples of this form of self-effacing altruism. But in this pandemic, we have been gifted with an excellent example of the Golden Rule. Here in Victoria we have been required to wear masks, to which some have responded that it is a ‘violation’ of their human rights. However, the wearing of masks is an almost perfect example of applying the Golden Rule. On an individual basis wearing a mask does not prevent the wearer from contracting COVID, various forms of respirator aside. The mask is not a personal prophylactic, but rather prevents transmission. We have been asked to wear masks to prevent infecting others, in the case that we are ourselves already infected.
At a local level a mask protects—uplifts—our neighbours. Quite specifically protecting them in the way that we would want to be protected. But at a broader level wearing a mask uplifts others by elevating them out of harm’s way, and enabling health systems to care for others without our own self-interest at hand.
If we have ever wondered what ‘do to others as you would have them to do you’ looks like, it looks like wearing a mask.
Chris Porter is a New Testament scholar working on the Fourth Gospel with a particular emphasis in the intersection of theology and psychology. He is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Trinity College Theological School.