Addenda–more discussion questions

  1. To what extent are mottos such as “Do a good deed every day,” or “Engage in random acts of kindness” similar to the Golden Rule? How are they different?
  2. Think about soldiers who lose their lives trying to save their fellow soldiers in combat–or any person who dies trying to rescue others. Are these examples of the Golden Rule? Explain.
  3. Is Golden Rule behavior restricted to humans? Or, is it a part of our “animal nature” that we share with our evolutionary cousins? Frans de Waal is a primatologist who has spent his professional life studying chimpanzees, bonobos (pigmy chimps) and other primate species. In Our Inner Ape (2005, New York: Penguin Group), de Waal says:Our golden rule –”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”–asks us to put on someone else’s shoes. We think of this as a uniquely human ability…but we are not alone. How many animals can do so? I have already described how Kuni, a bonobo, treated an injured bird she found in her enclosure. By trying to make the bird fly, Kuni recognized the needs of an animal totally unlike herself. There is no shortage of further examples of bonobos figuring out the needs of others.One involves Kidogo, who suffered from a heart condition. He was feeble, lacking the normal stamina and self-confidence of a grown male bonobo. When first introduced to the colony at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Kidogo was completely confused by the keepers’ shifting commands inside the unfamiliar building…After a while, other bonobos stepped in. They approached Kidogo, took him by the hand, and led him to where the keepers wanted him, thus showing they understood both the keepers’ intentions and Kidogo’s problem. Soon Kidogo began to rely on their help. (p. 170)
  4. Do you agree with de Waal’s judgment that these non-humans are able to think and act in simple Golden Rule ways? If you do not agree, how do you see this kind of animal behavior as being different from what we call “following the Golden Rule” in human society? If you agree with de Waal, can you provide other examples from your personal experience or from news items that you have seen or read?

Note: As a starter, the instructor may want to survey the class to see how many students know about the widely publicized–and televised–case of an ape acting in what de Waal thinks is a Golden Rule manner. In 1996, a female gorilla at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois picked up a three-year-old child who had fallen more than 15 feet into a gorilla exhibit. The gorilla picked up the boy, briefly cradled him in her lap, gave him a few gentle pats and then took him to the exhibit door where the zoo staff retrieved him. (de Waal, p. 3)

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