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The Corruption of the Golden Rule

by Sam Killermann · 71 comments

in Social Justice

The Golden RuleDo unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Right?


What we’ve been teaching our children, what I have learned and re-learned all of my life, is one of the worst pieces of advice around.  What’s worse: it’s nearly universally accepted as gospel (pun intended).

Before I tell you what’s wrong with it (and there’s plenty), let’s figure out where it comes from.  Let’s point some fingers, shall we?

To Wikipedia!

Wikipedia, without a doubt one of the  most amazing things invented by our generation (right between cell phone cameras and Neil Patrick Harris), puts it so:

The Golden Rule is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, in which each individual has a right to just treatment, and a reciprocal responsibility to ensure justice for others. A key element of the Golden Rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people with consideration, not just members of his or her in-group. The Golden Rule has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard which different cultures use to resolve conflicts.

Then our  mentally well-endowed friends go on to contribute that the Golden Rule is about as universal as breathing.  Buddhists, Christians, Confucianists, Hindus, Jews, Jains, and so many more have iterations of the rule in their philosophy.  You can trace it back thousands of years to ancient Babylon, which, apparently, was more than just a pretty garden.

The point is this: the Golden Rule is widespread.  The point is this: the Golden Rule is as dangerous as it is widespread.  The point is this: keep reading.

What’s the problem with the Golden Rule?

I was playing soccer and I overheard a spat.  It had nothing to do with soccer (a drama free sport), but we were on the field. “I’m pissed that you made that comment on the picture [on Facebook],” he snapped.  ”I didn’t realize it’d make you mad,” she replied, “That kind of thing never upsets me.  It was a joke.  Why are you so sensitive?”

The Golden Rule’s corruption doesn’t even respect the sacred boundaries of a soccer pitch.

You didn’t catch it?  Let’s review the play-by-play.

“I didn’t realize it’d make you mad.”

We often base our assumptions off of hypothesizing how someone else might feel/react/etc. in a certain situation.  And we all know the danger with assuming and that silly expression I never get right (it does something to our asses?).  Some might say it’s human nature.  It’s in our DNA.  I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.  But we can all agree, whatever the root, assumptions can be dangerous.

“That kind of thing never upsets me.”

Another way we fuel our assumptions is by “putting ourselves in others’ shoes” and guestimating (a word I learned in 5th grade that means “to make up”) how they would react.  Try as you might, you can’t put yourself in another’s shoes.  This statement is the essence of what’s wrong with the Golden Rule, so I’ll say it again: you can’t put yourself in another’s shoes.  ”I didn’t do unto you as I would not have you do unto me, dude.”  The “dude” freshens it up a bit.  The “unto”s are stale.

“It was a joke.  Why are you so sensitive?”

Ouch, salt in the wound.  What she was really saying is, “Dude (fresh, right?), I did unto you exactly how I would have you do unto me, yet you are still upset, so clearly there is something wrong with you.  What I did was completely justified and reinforced by thousands of iterations of the Golden Rule that have been socialized unto my head recursively since birth, dude.”

The Corruption of the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule, despite being based upon what I would assume (oops!) were good intentions, is fundamentally flawed.  It requires us to assume what will make people happy/comfortable/not snappy, then act upon those assumptions in an effort of goodness.  Worse, we have been taught and retaught the Golden Rule so many times that we internally justify this behavior as invincible, despite the fact that it fails constantly.

Ever worked with a “difficult person”?  I would bet (not much money, I’m poor) that those “difficulties” you faced were exacerbated by your [probably] inadvertent exercising of the Golden Rule.  Do unto a difficult (=different from you) person as you would have done unto you (=same as you), and you’re going to be done unto with a headache and a screaming sound inside of your head.

So what?  Am I just going to tear apart your social foundation of goodness and leave you starving for a way to make those around you happy?  Never.  I’ll feed you, baby birds (thanks, Tosh).

Introducing: The Platinum Rule

Platinum is worth about three times as much as gold (per ounce, market value).  That’s important for the name.  Keep that in mind.  The platinum rule is so simple that I’m going to write it twice.  ”Do unto others as they would have done unto them, dudes.”

Do unto others as they would have done unto them, dudes.

“How do I figure out how other people want to be treated?” I’m always asked in a sassy, know-it-all kind of tone.  ”Easy,” I slyly reply (good rhyme!), “Ask them.”

It’s that simple.

A big exception: above the Platinum Rule comes the “do no harm” rule, which, as its name suggests, means that before you do unto someone, make sure you’re not doing harm unto someone.  This exception protects the Platinum Rule against two of the most popular rebuttals, which I’ve named the “Kevorkian Dilemma” and the “Veruca Salt Argument“.

What do you think of the Platinum Rule?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

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  • Curious

    What limits or limitations might you recognize with said Platinum Rule?  In other words, would you suggest that this rule – at all times, in all places, for all peoples (both homogeneous and heterogeneous subsets of the world population)   – is appropriate?

    • Samuel Killermann

      Tough question.  I might not understand it clearly, so feel free to redirect me if that’s the case.

      I think the rule is far more useful in heterogeneous populations than homogeneous ones.  If a group subscribes to a strict, universal set of mores (e.g., a homogeneous group), one can better guess how an individual might wish to be treated, as individuality is trumped by the group’s culture.  This would be the case for more traditional, regimented societies.  Perhaps why the golden rule gained so much popularity historically.

      On the other hand, in societies where individuality trumps group culture the platinum rule is a must for creating and fostering a healthy environment.

      That answer your question?  What do you think?  

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  • Guest

    I always understood the golden rule as a work-around to the platinum rule.  That is, I don’t necessarily know how you’d like to be treated, but I can approximate that by thinking about how I like to be treated, which theoretically should get us rules like  ”don’t punch people in the face”, “don’t destroy the economy and environment for personal gain”, and “don’t try to enforce your values on me”, it does fail in situations where people have different values: “don’t put bacon on my sandwich”, “don’t take out my feeding tube when I’m in a persistent vegetative state” and others are rules that I wouldn’t personally have.

    That being said, the golden rule taken to its logical conclusion would mandate that I should respect the values of others and be sensitive to their feelings, because that is what I would want from them.  Perhaps the problem isn’t the golden rule itself, but the fact that people don’t actually think it out all the way through.

  • Guest

    I always understood the golden rule as a work-around to the platinum rule.  That is, I don’t necessarily know how you’d like to be treated, but I can approximate that by thinking about how I like to be treated, which theoretically should get us rules like  ”don’t punch people in the face”, “don’t destroy the economy and environment for personal gain”, and “don’t try to enforce your values on me”, it does fail in situations where people have different values: “don’t put bacon on my sandwich”, “don’t take out my feeding tube when I’m in a persistent vegetative state” and others are rules that I wouldn’t personally have.

    That being said, the golden rule taken to its logical conclusion would mandate that I should respect the values of others and be sensitive to their feelings, because that is what I would want from them.  Perhaps the problem isn’t the golden rule itself, but the fact that people don’t actually think it out all the way through.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Very interesting!  I really like this point.  Let me see if I can respond as well as you commented.  Way below were my original thoughts, until I re-read what you said and had new thoughts.  So many thoughts!

      If what you’re suggesting is that the golden rule, if executed properly, requires the platinum rule to be executed (e.g., you want to be treated how you want to be treated, so you should treat others how they want to be treated) then you’re awesome.  That’s a fantastic, mobius strip way of looking at it, and you couldn’t be more right.  If that’s not what you were originally suggesting, what do you think of that?

      Original thoughts, for what they’re worth:The golden rule is most troublesome when people DO think it all the way through.  I don’t agree that the logical conclusion of the golden rule is to respect the values of others and be sensitive to their feelings; I think it’s that there are a certain set of expectations (sociologist might call them mores) considered humane, decent, preferable, etc., and one should treat others well based on those expectations if they expect others to treat them well (“don’t punch people in the face” would certainly be one of those).The issue here is that culture changes slowly – incredibly slowly.  What’s culturally acceptable as behavior and what an individual might call acceptable are two different things.  And individuals have individuals needs, while cultures glaze over those individual needs.Golden-rule-based assumptions are helpful for the big stuff, or the “common sense” stuff.  Don’t hit, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, unless you want to be hit, robbed, deceived, and cheated.  But they aren’t as helpful for the small stuff. The platinum rule is great for it all.  Are you more comfortable with dealing with conflict face-to-face, or would you rather write your thoughts out?  Do you want me to call you sir, miss, mister, misses, dude, chick, tunafish sandwich?If you want to be sure that you are being sensitive to someone’s feelings, you need to know what their feelings are.  

  • Graceless

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts related my case.  

    I’m a high school teacher and my students’ platinum rule would ask me to leave them alone to play video games all day when my ‘job’ is to ensure that they receive a well-rounded education.  Certainly, I don’t like it when I get told by my superiors to teach to a specific test or have kids pulled from my class for a day because I am teaching about .  I suck it up because I’m part of a system, but the platinum rule ought to eliminate that, right?In no way am I saying your platinum rule is wrong.  Exactly the opposite, actually.  If you are so inclined, I’d just like to hear your thought progression on the subject.  

    • Samuel Killermann

      I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re suggesting here, so you might need to resteer me, but here’s what I’ve got.

      I taught at the college level and that was when that platinum rule really became my way of doing things.  You likely prepare lessons for different learning styles, knowing different students learn in different ways (aud, vis, kin, etc.).  That’s teaching to the platinum rule, just with a different name.  I took it even further.  By creating surveys to learn my students’ preferences, and having them take learning style aptitude tests to get a more objective measure, then using those data to create variations of assignments to support and challenge all of my students’ learning styles and preferences, I was able to really teach to the platinum rule.

      Now, something I just realized I didn’t write in the above post but I talk about in my show is the following caveat: above the platinum rule comes the “do no harm” rule, which I think applies a lot to teaching.  Most people would argue that a young person “doesn’t know what’s good for ‘em” and need someone to tell them what they need.  In this way, the “do no harm” rule would supercede the plantinum rule, though [side-note op-ed] I think we do a bit too much of that in schools, particularly with young people.

      Does any of that have anything to do with what you were asking of me?  :)

  • Graceless

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts related my case.  

    I’m a high school teacher and my students’ platinum rule would ask me to leave them alone to play video games all day when my ‘job’ is to ensure that they receive a well-rounded education.  Certainly, I don’t like it when I get told by my superiors to teach to a specific test or have kids pulled from my class for a day because I am teaching about .  I suck it up because I’m part of a system, but the platinum rule ought to eliminate that, right?In no way am I saying your platinum rule is wrong.  Exactly the opposite, actually.  If you are so inclined, I’d just like to hear your thought progression on the subject.  

  • Nicole

    Moving towards the Equal rights for all human beings, aspect we try to reach. This platinum rule, in different words and explanations, is how we teach people how to customer service people with disabilities.
    A don’t is to treat them the way you think you’d want to be treated if you had a disability like them, and the best way to handle the situation is to ask how you can help them.

    Why they don’t preach this way of thinking to a much larger scale, I will never understand. But this is an excellent saying that you can pull out of your back pocket.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Thanks for the comment, Nicole, and the anecdote.  I’ve found it helpful, and it’s the very basis for my show.  It’s an idea that really sticks with audience members.

  • Sueboyd3

    I think the intentions of the doer should be considered.  If the doer is attempting to be kind, aware, respectful, etc… but misses the mark, I try not to get all wounded.  I just gently correct them with a smile.  And I’m grateful there are folks at least trying.  We are not perfect. We are all doing our best, and we often fail.
    For example, I’m an adoptive parent, and have a biological child as well.  When people ask about my “real” child vs my “adoptive” child, I can tell when they just don’t have the correct terminology rather than breaking my chops.  I just gently remind them that they are both my real kids. No big deal.  They get it.
    My son is a trans kid.  When people forget his legal name and use the wrong pronoun, I don’t get all wounded.  I just remind them.  No big deal. It’s just a mistake. I’m not the center of the universe. (I just read this to him and he agrees).
    We don’t need to walk around each other on eggshells.

    • Samuel Killermann

      I agree with you that intentions should be considered.  If you know someone is well-intended and they misspeak, odds are they’ll even be happy to be corrected.  But what you’re suggesting here, particularly in your last line, is what I call the “tough skin” approach, and I take BIG issue with its advocacy.  I’ll limit myself to three points here.

      1. In the big picture, intentions are irrelevant.  If you’re changing the radio station in your car and slam a car/person/unicycle-riding squirrel, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t MEAN to, you did.  And you just killed the world’s only unicycle-riding squirrel.

      2. Do you know why the law general ignores “intentionality” and focuses on outcome?  It’s because it’s incredibly difficult to determine intentions.  If you’ve got good emotional IQ you are likely able to know if someone is accidentally misspeaking, intentionally being a jerk, or just being sarcastic.  But if you don’t, or if you’re younger and you haven’t developed it, you’re left guessing.

      3. If you knew what someone preferred, or how to best treat someone, it would be insensitive, incompassionate, and downright mean to intentionally ignore or refute that, yeah?  For example, someone who intentionally asks you about your “real” children, knowing all your children are your real children.  If you know what someone prefers, you don’t have to walk on egg shells.  

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  • Warren Pyece

    I’m God’s gift to women. The platinum rule was made for me. 

    • Samuel Killermann

      God is surely proud.

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  • Fed_Up18

    You explain neither the “Kevorkian Dilemma” nor the “Veruca Salt Argument” – the links you give lead only to the person & the character entries on Wikipedia.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Nope, I sure didn’t :) I was leaving that up to you to infer based on the chief identities of both of those figures, but a quick explanation:

      Kevorkian Dilemma: should I kill someone if they want me to kill them?

      Veruca Salt Argument: should I spoil a child if she wants to be spoiled?

  • ScarUponTheSky

    This Platinum Rule is more digestible version of the Wiccan Rede so it’s suitable for non-Wiccans. :) YAY

    • Samuel Killermann

      I’m unfamiliar, but I’m happy this sentiment is being taught elsewhere. Thanks for sharing :)

      • Kelly G

        An it harm none, do as you will.
        (harm is understood to be all types of harm, An is understood as similar to “if”.)

    • LINDA

      HI Just wondering what you mean by that Im curious to know what is version of the wiccan rede What is that Pleas explain Thanks

    • LINDA

      let me know what you mean wiccan rede version ?

  • Maya

    I like everything except the Kevorkian exception/do no harm coming first.  I think this leads to a dangerous mode of thinking where we believe we can decide what’s best for other people, which seems to contradict everything you are trying to say – or worse.

    • Samuel Killermann

      I think it could be viewed that way, on the extremes, or you could just see it as “if someone wants me to kill them, but I’m not comfortable doing that, I don’t have to do that or risk feeling like a bad person for not doing it.”

  • Theresa Redford jr.

    Hm….nice standard. Switching from gold to platinum sounds like a plan!

    • Samuel Killermann

      Happy to have you on-board!

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  • Alister Elliot Puddifer

    I would totally kill myself, but I’d be seriously offended if someone killed me.

    • Samuel Killermann

      I would also be offended if someone killed you.

    • Alex

      If you were desist, it isn’t logical that you’d be able to be offended. Also, at the end of the article he stated that the “do no harm” rule was above the Platinum Rule as a way to counter that exception.

  • HunterX

    I’d have gifts of $1000 rained down on me.  Cash only, no checks.  Since your platinum rule doesn’t involve my treating others that way, this would, of course, be a one way flow of cash… 

    • Samuel Killermann

      Good for you! But I don’t think you quite get it. Maybe a re-read would be helpful.

  • Rebecca

    This is amazing, I’m so glad I found it! As a future middle-school teacher, I often wonder how I’m going to structure my classroom in a way that will make my students feel most safe. I was just thinking a few days ago about some of the flaws in “The Golden Rule,” and trying to come up with a suitable replacement for my future classroom. This rule is perfect. Thank you!

    • Samuel Killermann

      Rebecca, I’m happy to hear that.  I think your class is going to be in great hands.

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  • Lisa

    “And we all know the danger with assuming and that silly expression I never get right (it does something to our asses?).”

    Made me remember a saying from my childhood “To assume is to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” =P I’ve found it to be quite true. 

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  • JAKQ7111

    The thought that always seems to come to my mind when discussing the Golden Rule is that “Treat other the way you want to be treated” does not imply any sort of reciprocation, or positive self-treatment. You can follow the Golden Rule to a T- be the nicest, most altruistic social justice advocate there is, and still be treated cruelly by others (or treat yourself much less well than you would others). Does the Platinum Rule imply positive self-treatment, or is it still possible to follow it and still act/think harshly towards yourself?

    • Esqg

      I know this isn’t a full answer, but long experience and some recent criticism has shown me that you really have to take care of your own well-being if you want others to be happy around you, and if you want to be emotionally able to treat others well.

  • ffg

    You seem dumb.

    • Samuel Killermann

      You seem rude.

      • CC Alexander

        How can we apply the Platinum Rule in this one, Sam? :) lol, love your response.

  • Naevitus

    Love this article (as with basically all of yours xD) and will definitely use it; thanks. :)

    Being the grammar freak that I am: “(=different than you)” should be “(=different from you)” by the rule that different always gets a from. Apologies~ xD

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hahaha no apologies. THANKS! :)

  • Amauri Alves da Silva

    Hi. I started reading your blog today.

    I think that the problem with the golden rule is when you restricts it to actions, only. I’ll give you an example, Let’s say, for instance, that I am I Multiple Martial Arts fighter. I don’t mind if a friend comes and punches me sometimes, since I will punch him back. So, If I don’t mind be punched, I’ll punch at others. It’s wrong, I think. The golden rule works with less specific stuff. For example, I don’t like that people makes me sad, so I won’t make people sad either. How do I know what makes the other one sad? Asking him. Wow, we’re back to the platinum rule LOL. I think the secret is “harm no others”, and, to know what is harmful, you just ask.

    Greetings from Brazil ;)

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hi Amauri,

      Fun to read this. I like the example you brought up, and think you are very right about the “harm no others,” rule. This article is just proscribing a means to figure out how to do that :)

      Thanks for the comment. Sorry I didn’t get to it ’til now.

      Greetings from Austin, TX!


  • Andronion

    I like your point – especially that you point out that we cannot put ourselves in others’ shoes. I think sometimes we can empathize to a certain degree and sometimes not. It’s good to be reminded of that!

    When I studied Social Psych I read about mental shortcuts and that assumptions are energy-efficient because we don’t always have to think everything through. But it’s risky and we’re often wrong, so it’s about balancing that.

    You also got me thinking about what we perceive as a given (“no one could want this”) and what we are aware is an individual value or preference.

    Thanks for the blog; it’s really interesting.

  • Estraven

    Very thought-provoking column, IF you are talking about reasonable people. But I work with neurodiverse people, who live by your platinum rule. Many of them are on Disability because they truly believe that they have a total right to mistreat other people, and other people are still supposed to do whatever they THEY want them to do. The only problem is that living by the Platinum Rule gets them in and out of the mental hospital and jail, because they do not apply it to other people, they just expect people to apply it to them. If they could advance to The Golden Rule, it would be huge progress.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hm… that’s quite the interesting situation you’re describing, Estraven. I’m not quite sure I’m understanding, but it sounds like those folks aren’t really putting the Platinum or Golden rule (or any other social more, for that matter) into practice.

      • Estraven

        My point is, you say “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” Well, there really are people out there who want to have no rules apply to them, be able to be horrible or even violent to other people, and never bear a consequence, but have everyone give THEM total money, time, attention, and treat them like the center of the universe. That is what they would have done to them. They suck other people dry, and are parasites on the rest of us, while giving not one thing back. Sadly, they were often terribly abused in childhood, so they justify this behavior to themselves on the basis of past suffering, but that does not change it.

        Your rule does not contain any sort of checks and balances for that sort of person. The Golden Rule had at least some sort of reciprocity built into it.

        • Estraven

          For example, one of my clients was a compulsive spender and bipolar. She did not work, but the way she wanted to be treated by her husband was that he would go on allowing her to spend up to $6000 a DAY of his money on junk. She got furious with him when he would return the stuff to the store. According to your rule, he should have just allowed her to spend all his money until they and the kids were homeless in the street, because that was what she “would have done to (her).”

          • Kenny Moran

            Oh, now I get it. Actually, you have a point! But that just goes to show that sometimes when dealing with mentally ill people, sometimes the Golden Rule is better than the Platinum Rule. Another good example of this is suicidal and depressed people. They may want you to leave them alone, but that doesn’t mean you should.

        • Kenny Moran

          They are not treating neurotypical people the way that neurotypical would like to be treated. They are NOT living by the Platinum Rule. There is nothing wrong with the Platinum Rule – the problem is that these people are not being moral.

  • Tallinn

    That… actually makes a lot of sense. thanks!

  • Max

    Try to apply the rule “do no harm” before applying the golden rule. It works out just as well as he platinum rule because “do no harm” applies to exactly those situations we can identify as being bad. In your example she did harm to him by posting something he did not like. So she hurt his feelings i.e. did harm to him. That then means that by applying the “do no harm” rule we could just never go wrong. It simply overrides anything that is bad about the second rule. For example “kill everyone” would be a totally acceptable moral rule if you used your “do no harm” rule first at all times because killing someone is obviously harmful and therefore forbidden by the first rule.
    In my opinion the problem is not to try to only do the best unto anyone but to determine what exactly is best. Asking often is a really nice method but sometimes people don’t want to be asked about their wants and needs and sometimes they don’t even know what they want. At least I know that feeling.
    The golden rule is widespread because it basically has the right idea, the formulation is not without it’s problems but you could go a hell of a lot worse than living by that rule. Still people have found it easy to poke holes into the golden and platinum rules and therefore I present someone elses idea of morality that you cannot so easily deny. Mostly because it is not all that easy to fully understand.
    My point being: the golden rule is the simple solution if you want another one look at Kant, he is cool. Don’t really like the platinum rule though :/

  • Leo

    I’ve learnt almost as much with you in the past half hour as I have in the last 48 hours of intense movie and documentary watching. Please, keep it up, and thank you.

  • Ahmed Mohamed

    How can we apply that rule to the Palestinians?

  • Ettina Kitten

    As an autistic person, I’d noticed this problem with the Golden Rule a long time ago. Autistic people don’t want the same things as non-autistics. For example, most people would be hurt if you interrupted their monologue to say ‘I need a break from your talking’. In my case, I’d prefer you do that rather than just tune out or give more subtle cues that I will miss.

    • Observations

      This is interesting to me. I prefer the same. However, I just think it’s honesty. Children are bluntly honest before taught to “behave” and have “manners”. They express themselves freely and do not intend to hurt with their honesty. Yet society tells them, don’t say this, don’t say that, and pretty soon we’re all wondering who the hell we have to be to get through the day with what everyone else in the world desires. Bill Cosby said,”You can’t please everybody so you’d better please yourself.”
      Those folks diagnosed autistic that I’ve met in my life happen to be some of the most authentic and truthful people there are. Example: I had broken a front tooth. I had the bonding replaced. Looked in the mirror and pretty much knew it looked like crap. Discolored and very obvious. Everyone I asked about it said something along the lines of, “Meh, you can’t see it.” and so forth. A child (whom people thought was autistic) looked at me and asked what was on my tooth.
      It was then I knew I had to get that shit fixed.
      Honesty hurts if you allow it to hurt you.
      But then, that’s me.

  • Brenda Rainey Cunningham

    I’m not trying to be political, but obviously governments have never heard of either.

    I do my best to be nice to everyone. I just might be the only one who does so from time to time. I was told once that my giving a smile to a gentleman made his day because most people turn away from him when they see him … the entire surface of the left side of his face is scarred from a burn he sustained from running into a burning house to save a child. I never knew that a smile could be such a difference maker in someone’s day. I shall never forget that lesson. And yes, he and I have lattes together every Wednesday!

  • theoluugy

    In the book “The Science of Good and Evil” by Michael Shermer (pub.2004) he proposes the the “ask first principle” to the Golden Rule which in practice makes it platinum. Ask the potential recipient of your golden “do unto” and find out if they really think or believe the same as you before awarding them with your “gift.” There are a lot of times when you shouldn’t even have to ask, like “honey, can I have an affair?” Shermer goes on to propose several other principles that make up what he calls “Provisional Morality” which unlike hard “thou shalt’s” of some codes, allows for cultural, thoughtful and progressive moral consideration in how we live with each other. I’d recommend you take a look at the book.

  • Risu

    I first heard of the “Golden Rule” when I (and my peers) were all at that age when we (I’d say developmentally, but I’m not an expert, so I’ll keep it down to personal observations) did not care about anything outside ourselves- it’s easier to teach a child to treat people like themselves, because a broad concept like “human”/”humane” is just totally beyond them (and the age I am thinking of specifically is the “whoah- everyone around me ISN’T thinking and feeling the same things as me?!?” stage).

    This (the Platinum Rule) is a logical maturation of the child-digestable version of empathy we are taught at a young age. Excellent article!

  • Aokha

    I apologize if what I am saying is repeated somewhere below. I only have a minute and no time to read all the comments. I applaud your attempts at widening our generally self-absorbed perceptions to try to keep other people in mind but I think that the only difference between the “golden rule” and the “platinum rule” is semantics and interpretation. Things like the golden rule are not meant to be interpreted literally – “do to that person exactly the same action as what you would do if it was You”. That seems to me to be a very small understanding of that very broad idea. Like most social concepts of “values” or “guidelines” for how we should try to live as social animals sharing this lump of spinning earth – there is probably more than one multi-chapter explanation for what the golden rule ACTUALLY is meant to convey. But when you are trying to get people to be good to each other – you need to create a short catch phrase that gets the point across. Usually the concept is taught first – then the catch phrase is used as a trigger to help remember the behavior that is desired upon being reminded. To use “jesus” as an example there were always stories of jesus teaching on the mount – those are the types of cases where a teaching story would be told and then some kind of punchline given to help people remember the lesson and be able to start practical application into their lives. Politicians use the same tactics. If you want to really look at the semantics likely involved in related concepts…. the word “sin” has been hugely misinterpreted in ENglish. What it really meant was something along the lines of “doing something against yourself” or “doing something which makes you forget yourself” In both of these cases – the intention is for you to remember to be conscious of what you are doing and make choices that are good and healthy for yourself both physically, emotionally, psychically – and therefore if you understand THAT is what it means to NOT SIN – then treating others as you would yourself means to also not do things which would cause them harm, cause them to forget themselves. This may be a more complicated answer than you were looking for but it has always been clear to me that the idea behind the golden rule is the same as the law of karma – what goes around comes around – if you put negative energy out into the world – eventually some of that negative energy comes back your way. If you assume that in general you would like to feel good and happy – then assume that other people would like to feel good and happy – and treat them in ways which will have THAT as the end result. As far as what exactly do you need to do in order to come to that result??? that requires NOT SINNING :) by paying attention and being conscious of what is happening around you so that you can determine what specific action will actually bring about such a result in any given situation. I will say – that all esoteric discussions aside – your other statement suits me just fine. In all cases – if you are about to do ANYTHING – which could result in any kind of adverse affect on anyone else but you -you should check in with them first to see if it is okay to do it. It’s just considerate…. Asking saves all kinds of trouble. In fact – even if you are the only one affected – you should check in with yourself – to see if that is really what you want to do… because you are equally as important not to harm. Of course – now we open a whole other can of worms around artistic expression and provocative art… but I will leave that for another round.

  • Wendell McBride

    The flaw with BOTH the golden rule and the platinum rule is that the rightness of an action is based on the opinion and experience of a single person. In the case of the platinum rule, if I would do something destructive to myself, that is not a behavior that I should exercise toward another person. If I frequently demean myself, I should not apply this rule and demean others. What we need is a rule which appeals to a universal ethical and moral code; a code that transcends the limits of my thinking and experience. This is of course far more difficult than the rules discussed here, but it is the only way to escape the egocentric limitation of these rules.

    Immanuel Kant wrote many important books on this and other subjects and I would highly recommend his writings for those philosophically inclined. As relates to this article he wrote, “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world”.

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