Living by the Golden Rule

A bright, yellow banner hanged in the front of the room above the chalkboard. There it stood in a horizontal fashion stretched across the entire top perimeter of the wall. It is located in the focal point of the room, diverting all the students’ eyes to its prominent presence. The banner displayed a vibrant statement in the following red letters.

Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

 I had no idea about the significance of the words as a 4th grader at the time period, but I knew it was important. Heck, if it wasn’t my teacher would never put such a banner in the most eye-catching place in the room. I sat there staring into the banner, pondering about how I want to be treated. The significance of the phrase is stuck in my mind.

“What does it mean?” I thought as my shy and awkward nature surfaced. “What if I simply want to be left alone? Does that mean everyone else just wants to be left alone too? Should I apply being alone as a guiding principle to treating others?” All these questions came rushing out and I had no idea what it meant to treat someone the way I want to be treated. I was conflicted, but the thought of the Golden Rule always stood in the back of my consciousness. It was not until much later that I learned to fully grasp the meaning of the Golden Rule.

Understanding the Importance of the Golden Rule

I remember several years ago when I had a conversation with my sister about how to treat people. Her response is as follows:

“I will be nice to people who are nice to me and I will be mean to people who are mean to me.”

This statement triggered a sad reaction from within me. I was conflicted with her response because there is some truth to her words. I mean why would you be nice to other people if they are mean to you? There are no good reasons to. However, I realized this way of thinking is detrimental to my personal growth. How can you make judgments of others just by how they treat you? Do I have to wait around to see if a person will be mean or nice to me before I consider being mean or nice to them? It just doesn’t make sense. I thought about the Golden Rule and was determined to reach a new understanding.

Evaluating my sister’s answer, I know that her statement is reactive. She is reacting to how someone else treats her. However, the Golden Rule is proactive. This means the rule is implying you to treat others the way you want to be treated without paying attention to your response on how others are treating you. When you are being selective of who you want to be nice to, you are not living by the Golden Rule.  This made me realized that the rule is unconditional and independent of external factors. It doesn’t matter if someone is of a different race, sex, religion or anything else. It doesn’t matter if someone holds beliefs that contradict yours. The principle of the Golden Rule does not state that it is exclusive to a certain group of people. It is universal and it applies to all. Just because someone is being mean to you, it doesn’t justify similar response. If you do so, then you will only be fighting fire with fire.

The Golden Rule, as I have learned, is the universal form of empathy. It allows us to reflect on our actions and treatments of others. We can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to fully understand each other. Think about it. How is it possible to hold ill will towards someone else, if you will not hold ill will towards yourself? Wouldn’t it be so much better to treat others with kindness and compassion? I guarantee that you will feel much better holding a positive vibe of others and yourself than the other way around.

You can say that, “Hey Luigi, so should I treat a criminal with respect? Why would I treat him the way I want to be treated? He harmed innocent people.” It is true that the criminal may had committed a treacherous crime, but the Golden Rule isn’t about him or any other people. The Golden Rule is about assessing your moral views. It is about how you want to treat others depending on how you want to be treated. It is not about anyone else. I know there are many logical loopholes if you argue strongly. But my point is that the rule is a complementary statement. It emphasizes that our actions should be one with our desires. The rule tests our moral coherence and allows us to overcome differences and ignorance. It is true that we may not know everything about each other, but having the Golden Rule will serve to remind us to think before we act, and to act with consciousness.

Achieving the Golden Rule Equilibrium

Sometimes there will be differences in interpretations of the Golden Rule. There will be differences in values between people and situations. Sometimes if your values are not shared with others, people might not want to be treated the way you want to be treated. However, regardless of these differences, you can still live by the Golden Rule because the rule is self-correcting. The rule is flexible enough to cater to all sorts of situation. This process is what I called the Golden Rule Equilibrium.

I have made a 3 step procedure that demonstrates this process:

Step 1: Define your desires on how you want to be treated
Step 2: Visual how others want to be treated
Step 3: Find a common ground to compromise how to treat others

The 1st step involves defining how you want to be treated. As a kid, I stated that I just want to be left alone, so I must treat others the same way. However, I now understand that this is a flawed desire. I never knew what I wanted because I was introverted and shy. How can I empathize with others, if I can’t even empathize with myself? I never understood what I want merely because I was afraid of change that might threaten my state of comfort and ignorance. I had a limiting belief that I don’t deserve respect, love, and attention. This is why identifying your desires is the most important step. You have the moral obligations to understand and comprehend yourself. Though the Golden Rule is important as a whole, I stress this point the most. When you define how you want to be treated, you lay a foundation of support for your actions. How can you possibly treat others the same way you treat yourself if you don’t even understand your own desires? Ask yourself the question:  “What is it that I want?”And simply write down your list of desires of how you want to be treated. Sometimes we need to critically evaluate ourselves in order to even begin understanding others. Here is a general statement of how I want to be treated.

I want to be treated with respect and equality. I don’t want people to make preconceived            stereotypical remarks about me, nor do I want them to hurt me in any ways, physically or mentally. I want to express my desires freely and coexist with others harmoniously. I will engage in heartfelt conversations with friends and strangers alike to share, and express my compassion.

You get the idea. There are countless ways to state something, but the general point is to make your desire apparent to you.

The 2nd step utilizes your imagination to visual how others want to be treated. It is true that this is a rather hard thing to do since everyone is different. However a great way to start is to get rid of all baseless and irrational personal assumptions and biased thoughts about people. No, not all Asians are smart and not all Jewish people are cheap. Stop stereotypical remarks against people of different race, religion, sex, and others and begin thinking of everyone as an individual with different perspectives and behaviors. Do you make biased first impression judgments? Everyone do, there is nothing wrong. But don’t let your judgments be the sole decider on how you should treat someone. Instead, take the time and effort to get to know others. Most importantly if you have no idea how others want to be treated, then do your research. The internet exists. You can easily go to a specific forum and ask questions to obtain helpful information if you so choose to be anonymous. Gain external feedback and make your best decision. Know that your decision is wholly yours and that other people’s opinion serves only as a general guide. If you still have no idea how others want to be treated, then talk to them. Ask them. Get to know them. Observe them and see how they act and behave. Listen to them patiently and willingly. After all, sometimes it is better to not beat around the bush and go directly into taking action.

The 3rd step finalizes the process by comparing how you want to be treated and how others want to be treated. This step is hard to explain so let’s come up with a scenario. Let’s say that whenever I come across a huge problem, I’d like to tackle the problem directly. I learned from personal experience that I don’t want to dwell on a problem because if I do so, it would result in wasted time and distractions. By focusing my attention on a problem, I would be frustrated the majority of the time. Thus, I desire expedient approach which allows me to come to a solution fast and efficiently. My friend, on the other hand, is a meticulous person who likes to evaluate his problem slowly and from many different perspectives to develop an optimal solution. Knowing his personality, I know that he wants ideas on how to solve his problems, but his approach disagrees with mine. What do I do? Instead of forcing my approach on his, I need to find a common ground. I know how my friend wants to be treated. How can I advise myself to treat him the way I want to be treated? I listen to him and relate both of our goals. We both want to solve our problems. We have a common ground of interest. I will implement my ideas as a possible solution to his. Since I already knew that my friend likes to tackle his problems from many angles, I know that he will be interested in hearing out my solution. However, I will not push my ideas on him, but instead I will use logic on why I think my approach can help using my personal experiences. The situation does not have to be directly about problems. Just know that treatment of others can greatly increase if you first think about yourself, then others. Finally compare how both of us want to be treated and find a common ground, an equilibrium where we can coexist peacefully with one another. The purpose of using this step is to learn to coexist with one another regardless of differences and desires. In other words, if you perform this step correctly the Golden Rule becomes:

Treat others the way we want to be treated.

After all, we all live in the same world, so why don’t we start thinking about our desires and manifest them harmoniously. I mean I’m going to, how about you?