By Katie Marshall
The Golden Rule or the “ethic of reciprocity” is a widely known moral code. It states: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or as it is frequently paraphrased, “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
It’s a pretty solid rule, considering it inspired human beings to cooperate and empathize with one another for centuries. We follow it because it makes immediate sense to us.
I like it when this happens to me, so I will do the same thing for others. Inversely, I do not like it when this happens, so I will not do that to others.
It is one of the cornerstones of modern society. It is universally understood. But what if it is wrong?
The Golden Rule, while easily shared and taught is missing a key component: empathy comes from understanding the other person first, not ourselves. A true human connection is one that is about the other person you are connecting with, not you or your experience. The Golden Rule might actually be more harmful than helpful.
Think about how you like to be treated when you are upset. Let’s say you like to be asked immediately, “What’s wrong?” and given an audience to explain why you are upset, through tears and shaky voice, in the moment. When you see me upset, you will come to my aid with questions and an expectation that I am going to want to discuss exactly what is upsetting me immediately. But what if I need space when I’m upset? What if I need to process my emotions on my own and then an opportunity to discuss it with you later, should I so desire? What if immediate questions overwhelm and even frustrate me? You’re following the Golden Rule, and you’re probably coming from a good place, but you’re not helping me. You’re hurting me.
You see, you don’t need to be treated the way I like to be treated. You need to be treated the way you want to be treated.
Dr. Tony Alessandra recently published The Platinum Rule which explains an alternative to the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”
By taking the feelings of others into account, you can use the Platinum Rule to actually make a positive impact. The focus of the interaction shifts from “I” to “you” by forcing you to first understand the situation from the other’s perspective, then acting.
You do not have to change yourself or your beliefs to operate under the Platinum Rule. You do not have to put everyone above you. Instead, think of the Platinum Rule as an opportunity to really do some good by stepping outside of yourself and expanding your focus to include the needs and wants of others. Another person’s situation isn’t about you. It’s about them.
You do not have to be a mind reader to use the Platinum Rule, either. The key to employing this rule is asking questions. If the other person has not explicitly explained how they want to be treated in the social situation you are in with them, ask. If you are not sure how to best support someone else, ask. If you can narrow your response down to a few options, but you can’t decide which one is the best for the other person, share your ideas and ask if any of them work for the other person. If not, what would work best?
When it comes to helping others, whether it’s teaching, supporting, or understanding them, remember to step beyond what you would want or what you would expect. Each human being is a unique individual and as such, requires different care. Take the time to ask and treat others how they truly want to be treated.