Why Treat Others As You Would Like To Be Treated Is Wrong

Yesterday’s Sunday Snippet had a quote from Ted Koppel where the newscaster reminded us of the importance of decency and civility. Treat your fellow man with respect and never compromise on these standards for morality. Powerful words, to be sure.

Well, our friend Ray Ebersole chimed in on that post, saying that the quote reminded him of the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. This “golden rule” has a few different variations (like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), but they all hold fundamentally the same meaning. However, this mantra is seriously flawed.

Does this mean that you should start acting without civility and respect? No, not at all. That said, the “golden rule” is based on some flawed logic and assumptions. It assumes that everyone wants to be treated the same way… but they don’t.

Illustrating with an Example

You’re at the local watering hole and you notice a guy sitting at the end of the bar. He’s all by himself and it looks like he hasn’t exactly had the best of days. Acting out of empathy, you walk over and try to engage in a conversation with him, hoping to relieve him of some of his worries.

The rationale is that you would appreciate the same kind of “reaching out” if you were in his shoes. If you were feeling down in the dumps, you would like it if a kind stranger would volunteer to talk things through with you. You’re treating this guy at the bar the same way you would want to be treated.

But what if he’s not like you. What if he’d really, truly rather be left alone. What if he really needs some “alone time” to work out his troubles on his own. If that’s the case, your kind gesture of “reaching out” could simply be perceived as an intrusion. That’s not good.

Treat Them All the Same By…

So, in place of the golden rule, how should you go about conducting your life? I’ve touched on this concept before, but it’s worth revisiting.

The way that you can treat everyone with the respect that they deserve, the way that you can treat them with decency and civility, is to treat them differently. That lesson came from the context of business, but it can easily apply to personal relationships too.

This is certainly easier when you know someone quite well. You have a good grasp on his or her personality and preferences, so you treat him or her accordingly. But what about strangers? I guess the golden rule, even though it’s not exactly golden, is still your best option.