Bending The Golden Rule

Sometimes we need to bend the golden rule — we should NOT treat others as we would want to be treated by them.

The Golden Rule provides a simple heuristic for empathy. Our actions affect others usually in the same way that the action would affect us. This rule of thumb usually works pretty well, especially with people that we’ve never met — when in doubt, treat them as you wish to be treated; however, it doesn’t entirely remove the focus from our preferences. After all, the second part is still about how we would want to be treated, and therein lies the rub.

Sometimes the way we want to be treated is not the way someone else wants to be treated. Intuitively, we all know this; we know that if our boss wants us to be on time, we should be on time, even though it doesn’t matter to us if others are on time. Yet when these differences arise, it’s easy to grumble and complain about how ridiculous the other person’s preference is. We may justify our grumbling from the Golden Rule, after all, we aren’t treating them differently than we would want to be treated. We might even say, “Look, this is how I want to be treated and so this is how you should want to be treated too”. But responding this way is contrary to the purpose of the Golden Rule, which is that it’s not about us.

In any close relationship, we learn that there are things that are very important to others, that are not important to us. Rather than complaining about or arguing to change their preference, we can be quick to recognize that we have our own personal preferences and would really like others to treat us accordingly. We should treat others according to their preferences because we would like others to treat us according to ours.







One response to “Bending The Golden Rule”

  1. Craig Norris Avatar

    A variation on this theme is sometimes referred to as the Platinum Rule – “treat others as they would like to be treated.” Craig

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