What’s Wrong with The Golden Rule?


“Study the assumptions behind your actions. Then study the assumptions behind your assumptions.” Idries Shah

Recently, I read a comment on Facebook which made me chuckle, “Before you bitch about my reaction, think about what you did to cause it.”  If you know someone who fits this scenario, raise your hand.  Mine is way up in the air.goldrule2

It amazes me how many people treat others poorly and then get all bent out of shape when the behavior is returned.  Matthew 7:12 (ESV) states, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Why then do so many ignore the so-called Golden Rule?  Well for one, some people are just not as committed to a relationship as we would like to think.  Some want but quite frankly are not willing to give.

The fact is we teach others how to treat us. This also means that we are partly responsible for the mistreatment or abuse we get from others.  OUCH!  That is tough to hear, right? We teach people just how much we are willing to put up with.  Unfortunately, some people will take advantage of those boundaries.

Think of it this way, you are showing people how you want to be treated by how you treat you.  Do you respect yourself? Are you with people who value what you value?  Do you show people that you honor yourself and will not tolerate abuse from anyone who doesn’t?

If you expect someone to be a good friend to you and be there for you, you have to be a good friend in return and be there for them.  Simple, right?  The key word here is “expect.” Although I believe in the golden rule, it does not come without flaws.

When we expect things of others, we are making assumptions about them.  For one, we are assuming that they feel the same way we do.  We are assuming that they want what we want. I love Isaac Asimov’s advice, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

When I graduated from college, I grew increasingly frustrated by my inability to find a job in journalism.  I remember writing a letter to the March of Dimes talking about the changes I felt needed to be made within the disabled community.   This is a nonprofit organization which acts globally sharing the best practices in perinatal health and helping when things go wrong.  In my letter, I wrote, “Empathy not sympathy yields understanding.”  My feeling, simply stated, was that I was not looking for people to feel sorry for me or have sympathy for me.  Instead, I wanted people to empathize with me or put themselves if only for one moment in my shoes.

Thankfully, I did finally land a job in business journalism.  But to be perfectly honest, it would never have happened had it not been for a woman named Denise who gave me that chance. Let me explain.

Denise was leaving her job to take another job as Director of Communications with another association.  We met when I applied for the job she was leaving.  I didn’t get the job but a few months later, I received a call from Denise asking me to interview for a job as her assistant editor.  I did and got the job.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Denise’s former boss did not give me the job because of my so-called “speech impediment.”  She ASSUMED I could not do the job.  Thankfully, Denise saw beyond this and took my resume with her to her new job.  I will eternally be grateful to her for seeing beyond my disability.  I will eternally be grateful to her for putting herself in my shoes and treating me the way she would want to be treated.

The fact is, however, there were many prospective employers before her that did not react the way she did.  Why?  Because some people get it and some don’t.  Everyone is different.  Some people will react the way that you want them too and others won’t.  You can’t make people into what they are not so stop trying to.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, I know.  I’ve been hurt many times because I expected something from a friend that never happened or assumed something about someone else that simply was not true.  So what’s the lesson here?  Never ASSUME. As they say, “You should never assume. You know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of you and me because that’s how it’s spelled (ass-u-me).”

If you don’t assume anything, you will be less likely to expect.  And if we don’t expect, we will be less likely to be hurt by another person’s reactions.  We can’t always control how a person treats us but we have total control over how we react.  Remember, you teach others how to treat you.  If you want to be treated a certain way, command it by treating others the way you want to be treated and settling for nothing less.

I once read a blog which I have to say I had to respectfully agree to disagree.  The author was speaking about simple steps to attract the right people into your life.  While she agreed that we teach others how to treat us, she said relationships that thrive are those which involve people who are alike and speak the same code.  While it’s true that it’s best to be with people who share your core values and beliefs, it’s also OK to be with people who are different.  Opposites attract for a reason.  The key is to honor the positives while also respecting the differences.  Turns out that old rule can be quite golden indeed.


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