I recently discovered that a very common principle I have known all my life is referred to as the golden rule. I also learned that it is coming under scrutiny and modern times are asking for it to be updated.
The golden rule is a principle we all must have heard at some point during our upbringing. It comes in different forms. You may have heard one of the following varieties:
- Do unto others as you would want done to you
- Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated
- What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself
The golden rule is pretty simple. You only need to embark on a quick soulsearch and pinpoint how you like to be treated and then apply this to others.
Unless you’re dealing with some psychological turmoil, the answer should be available pretty much immediately, as you probably already know what makes you happy (and what does not).
Until recently, I would have told you the golden rule has great merit and that the world would be a better place if we lived by it more strictly.
The golden rule stands on the assumption that every other person you interact with wants what you want. There are many ways you can miss the mark on that one, which is why the golden rule is in need of an update.
The upgraded version of the golden rule is referred to by some as “the platinum rule”. It boils down to something like this:
Treat others as they would want to be treated
Its a simple idea and the underlying sentiment is still the same; be nice.
Its practical implementation does require a bit more effort than the golden variety, which is what I will dive into a bit more, below.
Ask and check
When putting the platinum rule into practice you would have to figure out what it is that the person on the receiving end of your actions wants.
Asking is one way to go about it.
A direct question, especially directed at someone you may not know very well, may not get you the answers you need. When you put someone on the spot like that, the person in front of you might say something like “Nothing” or “I don’t know”.
If you truly want to be the person the other person needs (or at the very least the person that doesn’t hurt the other’s feelings) then getting an answer like “nothing” does not mean you’re off the hook.
The pitfall with this approach is that by asking the question you make your problem their problem. You put the spotlight and the other and achieve the absolute opposite of what you were trying to do.
In the end, the fact that you don’t know how to behave is YOUR problem, not THEIRS.
However, I am convinced that you can solve almost anything with a drop of empathy and a whole lot of communication. Keep asking questions. Keep listening. And back off when appropriate or requested.
Contrary to the golden rule, the platinum rule leaves room for interpretation and error. Because:
- What do you do if the other lets you know they want you to treat them in a way that (you believe) is harmful for them?
- What if the way the other wants to be treated is something you are not willing to do (for example because it goes against your own values or because it is harmful to you)?
- How do you avoid becoming that annoying person that asks a million questions at every turn?
These questions have come up when dealing with people I hold dear, that struggle with addiction or tendencies to self harm. The platinum rule would not help me or them, if I followed it strictly. The golden rule would also fall short.
An opinion piece written by Kris Williams on Medium that I bumped into just now, struggles with similar dilemmas. Ms Williams describes a third stance, the Titanium rule, and it goes likes this:
“Treat others as it is in the highest and best good to treat them.”
This might be a bit much for every day life, but it sounds like a sane way to deal with more complicated interactions.
At the end of the day I think it’s not even necessary to choose between the three. I think all have their merits and make sense in different situations.
What do you think?