On “Animating the Golden Rule: Youth and the Global Family,” By Terry Weller

Posted on October 19th, 2009 | Filed under Best Practices/Non-Profit, Faith and Politics, In Print: New Books, InterViews, IR News and Events

This movie review was originally published in the Interfaith Unity Newsletter and is reproduced here with permission from its editor, who is also author of the review.

Historians tell us that between the ninth and second centuries B.C.E. a new concept for living came into the consciousness of humans. Inexplicably it filtered throughout the world and began to appear in the sacred records of all civilizations. The concept was that of Compassion. And the focal point of this was the Ethic of Reciprocity; commonly know as the Golden Rule. The Christian version is: “In everything, do to others as you would have them to do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” It is considered to be the most consistent, prevalent and universal ethical principle in history. It surpasses religious boundaries and finds it way into cultures, philosophical circles, and indigenous traditions.

It was almost a decade ago that Paul McKenna, head of the Interfaith Desk at Scarboro Missions in Toronto Canada, published his Golden Rule Poster. It is a brightly coloured poster of yellow and blue featuring the symbols of 13 different world religions. Beside each symbol is written that religion’s version of the Golden Rule.

The poster was a like a dove released into the wind. Taking on a life of its own it travelled around the world. It graces a wall in the United Nations building, has a home in the Vatican, hangs in different places of worship on every continent, speaks to visitors of town and city halls, and beckons to students in the corridors of their schools. In Africa, translated versions of the Golden Rule poster have been handed out by the thousands in various countries, thanks to the untiring efforts of the board chair of the Interfaith Peace Building Initiative in Ethiopia, Mussie Hailu. The poster’s travelogue is endless.

On Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, the Golden Rule Poster came to another major milestone. A new film on the Golden Rule Poster was previewed to a select audience at the Scarboro Missions. The film was produced by Tina Petrova, a Toronto film producer. The idea for the film came out of her production of another film: Rumi Turning Ecstatic. During the production of the Rumi film, Petrova was led to the Scarboro Missions for part of the filming. Through a series of seemingly disconnected encounters, she came face to face with the Golden Rule poster. This meeting planted the seeds of a film on the Golden Rule.

Such principles as the Golden Rule continue along the river of time only as long as new generations embrace them and make them their own. Animating the Golden Rule: Youth and the Global Family is about such a generational embrace. In the film, Petrova presents a group of Catholic high school students teenagers on a Golden Rule Retreat at Scarboro Missions. They are given the opportunity to express the Rule through their own creative lenses. The group is divided into smaller groups and each team is assigned one of the thirteen religions. Their team assignment is to take the golden rule as it is stated within their assigned religion and to prepare a theatrical skit, a musical demonstration, a poetic expression, a song or any creative process to demonstrate that version of the Golden Rule.

The film shows clips of many of the presentations. The creativity employed is ingenious. Each student definitely shows that our creative capacity surely is a gift of the Divine. Each team was given only 30 minutes to devise and practice their skit. Each team gave us back a gift in return.

At one point, a team of students swirl into dance to the words of the Golden Rule. Later a stage drama moves from chaos to a meditative stance. Drums later beat an entrance for a young man with a sonorous voice at a podium speaking the words of the rule. Actors become bugs playing on the road, threatened by cars they are saved by Jayne the Jain proclaiming that nothing will die on her watch! Another acting troupe portrays a careless young woman who does not care for the life of insects until a spiritual being changes her into a bug who does not enjoy her fate.

The Golden Rule is portrayed and sung, guitars and bongos resound to the themes. And most of all the entire group of teenagers rejoice in the ancient ethic, willingly embracing it as theirs. Joyfully they pass it to others through their creative talents. Collectively they demonstrate in microcosm the potential effect of this global ethic on the entire human family.

Afterwards students discuss what they learned personally from the experience about themselves and about each other. They share their newfound understanding about how they see the Golden Rule can change the world. The exercise captured so well by Petrova and her crew shows us two basic truths about the Golden Rule:  its power lies in the doing – not in the knowing; and that its expression springs from our collective global consciousness.


Terry Weller, I.C.A.D.C., A.D.S., M.S.C. is an Interfaith Minister and Publisher of Interfaith Unity News.

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