I recall, as a kid, watching one of the many episodes of the popular sitcom All In The Family. Edgy and polarizing for the time, the show dealt with hot-button topics through clever writing and comedy—including hilarious, misinformed comments about religion and faith. Phrases such as, “Don’t you remember the story of Abel hitting his brother over the head with a cane?” have stuck with me to this day.
Another moral lesson, given by the patriarch Archie Bunker who was the caricatured retiree, explained the Golden Rule as the axiom, “Do unto others as you will.” This amusing version fit the character’s self-absorbed approach to just about everything. That version of the ancient phrase juxtaposed with the proper wording, “do to others as you want them to do to you” illustrates the lesson of the idea nicely.
There have been many interpretations of the Golden Rule and whole books have been written about how to understand and apply it (one of my favorites is The Golden Rule (affiliate link) by Jeffrey Wattles which goes into the fascinating history of the phrase). I’ve come to understand the phrase as guiding me to treat others in the same way I would like to be treated and to avoid doing to others what I don’t want done to me.
The Golden Rule can serve as a nice go-to in most daily interactions. While its application can be difficult and ambiguous at times, it also can help cut through the challenging morass of human interaction that we face each day. Here’s how the rule helps me.
It gets me past action paralysis. I’m an over thinker. I spend far too much time thinking through the “most optimized” way to do something or the “right” way to handle a situation and, in many cases, this over thinking causes me to not act at all. By using my own desires and emotions as a guide for how I should treat others, I get past the analysis paralysis, act, and get on to enjoying the people I’m with.
It helps me understand what I want and need. A key, underlying assumption in the Golden Rule is that we know how we want to be treated. When intentionally trying to apply the rule, I was surprised to find how uninformed I was about my own beliefs and desires. When faced with a decision for how I should treat another person, the Golden Rule forced me to think about what it would be like to be in their situation and what I would want. That has helped me to clarify my own perspective on the world and has made treating others more intuitively in the process.
It helps me learn what others want and need. If you know another person is trying to apply the Golden Rule, you can learn a great deal about what they care about. If you discover that you and the other person care about different things, that can be really helpful information. Over time you can adjust how you both behave or you’ll learn that you’re too far apart and may need to change the relationship over time (particularly when that relationship is a close one like a partner, friend, or working relationship).
While we may not want to treat the Golden Rule as a rule per se, it can serve as a good guide for interacting with others. Try it for a few days and see how it not only can change your relationships but also change how you think about your own beliefs and desires. You may be surprise what you find.