Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why the Golden Rule Doesn’t Work

When I tried to explain that I think the two thoughts responsible for most of the world’s problems are: I Want Things to be the Way I Want Them to Be, and The Rules Don’t Apply to Me, two readers commented that the Golden Rule was all we need. The implication was that I was a) being too wordy and b) trying to re-invent the wheel.

I freely admit to trying to re-invent the wheel many times during my life. But too wordy? No way! I pride myself on being succinct. I take the time to write a short message.

If I thought the Golden Rule covered the situation, I’d have said so. And, yes, my blog would have been a lot shorter.

Do Unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You.

The problem is that what I want and what others want are rarely the same. As a teenager, I’d have loved it if my parents took the time to discuss philosophy with me. When I tried to discuss philosophy with my teenagers, they walked out of the room. “I don’t care about that stuff, Mom.”

I’d have loved it if my mom made spicy foreign foods. I used to tell my parents that you’d think the spice wars had never been fought for all I saw of the results. Okay, I was a rude teenager. What did my kids want? Hamburgers. With ketchup. “Why do we have to have all that weird food?”

At work, when I was an underling, I wanted a chance to try out my ideas for improving and reorganizing. Now that I’m a decision maker, I offer my employees the opportunity to try out their ideas. “No thanks. I just want to get done.”

Bottom line. Other people don’t want to be treated the way I want to be treated. They want me to read their minds and then do what they are secretly thinking. I guess, ultimately, that is what we all want. But that is impossible.

The real rule is treat other people the way they wish you’d treat them, but they aren’t going to tell you what that is, so you have to guess, and you are going to be wrong most of the time, and they are going to think you are a doofus, or worse.

Which is why I wrote the longer version. And I still maintain that most of our problems come from our perceptions and not from other people. Even when it looks like the problem is other people, it's our perceptions of those people. We can't read their minds, so we don't know what they really want.


  1. It seems that people don't learn rules very well, and we don't seem to get facts very straight. Certainly, given these deficits, it seems best for us not to try to figure out what somebody else is thinking. Instead, we need to focus on getting our own thoughts in order.

  2. Yes, getting facts straight is another of the impossible tasks we set ourselves. My anarchistic thought of the day -- since we can't know the truth, perhaps that is the truth that will set us free. At least free of trying to figure out the impossible.