Friday, January 27, 2012

Improving The Golden Rule By Going Platinum

Sometimes it hits me that I am getting older. And one thing I've noticed from my experience of getting older is that I've realized just how many little drops of wisdom my father has given me over the years. I didn't notice how they were adding up with time, but there are a few key phrases that he has said enough to make them stick in my mind as, "Things my Dad always said." One of my favorites is something that he got from his father, which actually reflects a key idea in Taoism: "Don't force something or you might break it." While it think that his father mentioned it with respect to fixing cars, it applies to lots of other things, too, from opening paint cans to being in relationships. Another is, "Always follow the highest that you know." Of course it's not about drugs--it is about taking the moral high road and doing what you know should be done in any given situation. Finally, one thing that my dad has always said, which may be most familiar to others since many of us have heard it from our mothers and fathers, preschool teachers and even religious texts, is this: "Treat others they way that you would want to be treated." It's also phrased something like this: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's known as The Golden Rule.

I love my father. And I'm not trying to continue my rebellious streak at the ripe old age of 25, but over the recent past I've been thinking about The Golden Rule and I'm getting to a point where I can see more clearly how it doesn't quite hit the mark.

Here's why:

Although The Golden Rule is supposed to teach us compassion and kindness for others, to orient our actions based on how we would like to be treated maintains a focus that first and foremost considers ourselves before it considers others. It says, "What about me? How would I like to be treated? What would I want others to do for me?" Of course, since The Golden Rule is intended to guide us in how we treat others, this is one step in direction that moves us away from simply serving our own interests. It helps us not act as self-centered, inconsiderate children who haven't learned good manners. But it takes our own interests as the ground that informs our actions and then applies that to others. It still focused on ourselves. Me. I. It's still pretty immature after all.

It was nearly eight years ago when I heard of a different take on the The Golden Rule. An older friend of mine, another sort of parent figure, suggested that instead of treating others how we would like to be treated, we should treat others how they would like to be treated. He referred to it as The Platinum Rule.

Aside from the epistemological difficulties of actually knowing how another person would want to be treated and the potential risks of acting in ways that could be read as paternalistic and condescending, I think there is a really great kernel of wisdom to be found in The Platinum Rule. Ultimately, I think it serves the same purpose as The Golden Rule, namely, to encourage us to act in ways that reflect compassion, care, and respect. But it just does it so much better.

Perhaps The Platinum Rule hasn't quite caught on with the masses because it is more difficult. It requires that we put in more effort and real consideration to reflect from another person's position, to take the time to understand their needs, to get to know them well enough so that we can actually treat them with respect in the way that they would like and need to be treated. It demands that we step outside of ourselves,our own interests, and perhaps even our own comfort zones and do things in ways that we perhaps wouldn't typically do them. Maybe we wouldn't even think about doing them in such and such a way. But that is why it requires and demonstrates a greater commitment to serving the other and taking care of his or her needs first. That is why it shows a deeper level of care and concern. By seeing through the eyes of another person and stretching our notions of what it means to show love and respect, our actions may no longer reflect how we would prefer to act or how we would prefer to be shown love and respect. They testify, "I'm doing this for you because I know that you would like me to do thus," even it if doesn't jive with my usual M.O. or how I, myself, would like to be shown that I am cared for and loved. While it may be quite possible that the needs and desires and preferences of different people are not totally divergent from one another, actions that follow The Platinum Rule can stand on their own, completely independent from the thought, "I wish that you would also do this for me."

For lots of people, myself included, showing and expressing our love, gratitude, respect, and care for other people can be a hard thing to get good at.  That's why it's helpful to have some basic guidelines that generally cultivate us into being better people: listen to the other person; inquire about their life and how they are doing; accompany them at their side through challenges and hard times; celebrate their joys and victories with them; let them know that you see that they are special and valuable and worthy of being loved, even if they already know it for themselves; let them know when you are thinking of them; check in and say 'hello' just to say 'hello.' But even with fairly standard codes of generally good conduct, it takes more to be able to really love and care for another person. It takes more than good manners (although they are certainly part of it). It requires patience, vulnerability, openness, empathy, generosity, and growth.

It requires genuine love to actually express genuine love. 

These are not traits that we can develop very easily or very quickly, nor are they qualities that we can really embody for everyone whom we encounter. But perhaps for those closest to us, we can work to push ourselves further to really become better, more loving, more giving people. We can start by learning a new principle about understanding and meeting others needs on their own terms and trying to grow into that. And when someone says, "I'm going Platinum, baby!" we can celebrate the possibility that they are not simply ambitious rap artists, but rather ambitious friends and loved ones who mean to indicate to us their commitment and dedication to being better friends and loved ones.

For myself, no matter how old I get, I know that there is always more room to grow. And in this respect, I hope that we all continue to do so.

1 comment:

  1. Mary Warnock on having a public life as a philosopher: