This is a very old ruler.  In fact, I’m not even sure exactly how old it is. I think it was from my first or second grade year, so it’s been around for well over sixty years. I remember receiving three special items from Coca-Cola at the beginning of my school year: a wooden ruler with The Golden Rule printed on it, a thick writing tablet with pulpy, lined pages for writing in manuscript, and a shiny red pencil imprinted with the company logo.

We were rural students from families that didn’t have a lot of money, and we certainly didn’t have today’s electronic gizmos and blingy stick-on jewels. A ruler, a writing pad, and a pencil were special gifts to kids who didn’t have much.

Cokes were only five cents, and they were sold in six-ounce glass bottles. We could buy them at school during recess. There were always red, wood bottle crates stacked beside the Coke machine for the return of the empty bottles. At home, we saved our “soft drink” bottles to redeem for money at our local country store. That was our version of recycling before we knew what recycling was. Then we used the money to buy more bottled drinks or candy.

Of course, I loved the pencil, and I loved to write. Letters were magical to me, and the lined pages helped me learn to write proper manuscript and, later, cursive. But this ruler. I still remember reading the words: A Good Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The language was a higher level of standard English, not informal. Pretty highbrow for first graders. I remember reading those words for the first time, thinking about what they meant, and learning to repeat the words exactly.

I did a bit of research on the Coca-Cola official website, which said the company gave away millions of these rulers. I wonder how many school children read those words? How many of them took those words to heart? In today’s schools, bullying remains a huge problem. How much better would the lives of victims be if everyone practiced “The Golden Rule?” What if all students (and adults) decided to treat others the way they wished to be treated? There’s a simple word for that: empathy.

Adults need to clean up their act. Children are watching. Babies aren’t born with hearts filled with hate and prejudice. They aren’t born with the opinion that they’re better than other babies.  Those are learned behaviors, but learned behaviors can be un-learned, even though that can be a tough proposition. Wouldn’t it be much easier if children didn’t learn malice from the adults in their world at all?

More and more, every day, teenagers and even young children are committing suicide at an alarming rate. They cannot take the constant threats and belittling they receive from other students. Spud McKenna spends a sizable chunk of each day of his life dodging a bully in one form or another. Rusty Jackson, Raleigh Brown, Parley Wentworth, his teacher Miss Maude Jones, and even his own grandmother Pearl seem to zero in on Spud’s vulnerabilities. As a pivotal character in my books, Spud is a composite of every child or teenager who goes to school simply wanting to learn despite being picked on mercilessly because he or she is smaller than other classmates, precocious, quiet, nonathletic, highly intelligent, or “different” in any way. Sadly, there will always a bully—at the work place, in politics, in the military, on a university campus, on social media, and in public service jobs where there is absolutely no room for tormenting behavior. A boss who throws around power. A co-worker who belittles and makes others feel small to make himself or herself feel bigger, better, and more important. A relative who makes fun of a child’s weight or appearance.

Again, with children, in most cases those behaviors were learned from observation. There is no excuse for adults to behave in such a way. I especially like the fact that the Golden Rule is printed on a ruler. Perhaps, in simpler times, it reminded us as children that the way we treat others is a measure of our character. Adults could use some reminders as well.

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