It’s a Bad Idea to Treat Others How You Want to Be Treated
How to have good relationships while ditching the Golden Rule
“I’m only doing it because I want the best for you,” my dad used to say each time he did the complete opposite of what would make me happy. “My intentions are good.”
I don’t care about your intentions, I thought. I care that you can’t see I’m a completely different person than you are.
Every day, people all around the world act according to the Golden Rule and think their actions are righteous and kind — after all, they treat others how they themselves would like to be treated. That’s good, right?
No. Actually, it’s a pretty crap piece of advice.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Golden Rule is a great tool when it comes to basic ethics — don’t hit others because you’d hate to be hit, don’t steal because you’d hate being robbed, don’t lie because you don’t like being played for a fool.
That’s straightforward enough.
But what happens when we look at the more complex things in life? How about giving someone a book as a gift because you enjoy reading? How about showering someone with love and not giving them any space to breathe because you’d love that kind of attention?
There’s a dangerous hole in the land of the Golden Role — if you fall into it, it’s hard to climb back out. And that hole is the pit of self-centeredness.
“I know what’s good for you”
Humans are self-centred. It’s in our nature to place ourselves at the centre of the universe, not only for the purposes of survival but also because it can be difficult to see the world any other way.
You are the only person you’ll ever be (in this lifetime anyway). You’ll wake up in your body for the rest of your life and you’ll always perceive the world through your subjective thoughts — including your opinion of others and how you treat them.
When you let the Golden Rule lead your decisions, you automatically shut off the experience of other beings around you and you solely focus on yourself, which is what you automatically do most of the time anyway. This amplifies it.
You shut the blinds, close the doors, concentrate on your feelings and make up your own politics based on who you are. Then you project this closed-off space on the world around you, thinking it’s the right thing to do.
But it’s never right to assume you know how people want to be treated. More often than not, you get at least a part of it wrong, making the situation much worse for both sides.
It doesn’t matter that you only want the best for someone if you don’t care to find out what “the best” means for them.
“I want to learn to treat you well”
The ultimate problem with the Golden Rule is that it doesn’t allow for opening yourself up to the raw experience of others.
If we could try out living as other people for a day, maybe the world would be a more empathetic, more understanding place. But that’s not how it works.
The only way to be a good person is to step out of your self-obsessed shell and try to comprehend how everyone around you works, thinks and feels while still being stuck inside your own head.
This can be hard, and it also leads to many assumptions that you naturally make on daily basis, which means that in order to treat people well, you need to ask them how they want to be treated so that there are no misunderstandings.
You have to ask, observe, remember things and listen during discussions where they share their inner selves with you. You have to try to grasp the essence of who they are and where they’re going in life. You have to care.
If my dad asked me what I wanted him to do before embarking on a journey based on his own assumptions of me, maybe all his attempts to make things right wouldn’t end up being disasters. All he had to do was ask, listen and respect what I say.
The strongest relationships work so well because they’re based on respect, understanding and clear communication — not on self-centred assumptions. If you treat others how you want to be treated, you’re ignoring their authentic selves and blinding yourself from the complex reality. You’re shutting yourself in that dark room while your relationships crumble around you.
So step out of that room. Step out of your head. Ask questions, listen and accept your loved ones for who they are.
Don’t treat others how you want to be treated. Treat them how they want to be treated.