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The Despair and Disparity of The Golden Rule

From narcissism to altruism.

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Image by Jan Tinneberg via Unsplash
Image by Jan Tinneberg via Unsplash

On the surface, the title of this post clearly contradict itself. How could our good friend, The Golden Rule, possibly be tied to anything but kindness and compassion? Isn’t it the proverbial definition of kindness?

Nope! It’s not. It’s just plain selfish.

You may be thinking, “Wait! What? Isn’t this taken directly from the Bible?”

Yep. But you’ll see that it’s narcissism in disguise none the less. In black print on white paper, it puts “I” and “Me” at the center of “Others.”

This idea came to me one night as I was struggling to sleep. I started listening to an audio-book when the author started discussing the relationship between actions and consequences; between behaviors and what’s and reciprocated. Then, even with the hope of sleep just moments ahead, I heard it; The Golden Rule:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Hearing it this time, however, something didn’t sit right with me. It just rubbed me the wrong way. It started a unintended and unwelcome internal debate: “Doing the right thing isn’t that simple…is it? It’s not that thoughtless…is it? There’s got to be more to it than just treating others the way that I want to be treated.”

Well there is more to it; a lot more.

Socially, spiritually, culturally, and some would argue physically…we evolve over time. We learn, we grow, we share, and sometimes it’s necessary to move beyond mindless tradition for the sake of the tradition. With a dash of insight and a sprinkle of foresight we can move in the direction of integrity. So let’s put The Golden Rule into a scrap-book, then create something more relevant; something durable; something integrated; something further down the path of social evolution.

As a teacher, a coach, and a dad, I know that we don’t all have the same motivators; the same needs and wants. What one person perceives as a reward might look more like a punishment to another. While one person wants a new iPhone another wants a new pair of Basketball shoes while a third wants a weekend away, camping and fishing with grandma and grandpa.

This idea isn’t new to anyone, but the awareness alone is a massive step in the right direction. It’s just often overlooked when discussing both human and organizational behavior. Our emotional and psychological needs and wants are part of what makes us unique. It’s all part of what makes diversity so rich!

With all of this in mind, look what happens when we switch it up. Look what happens when we rebel just a little and ask “why?”

Why should “I” treat others the way that “I” want to be treated?”

The simple answer is, I shouldn’t! I never should have. Done! Let’s move on.

So what’s next? What’s better than The Golden Rule?

To quote Einstein, “We cannot solve our current problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Sadly, right now, our level of thinking is almost nonexistent. But we can change that. Being aware that we’ve got social and civil issues to remedy is the first step toward resolution. With today’s volatile social climate, the simple awareness that we need to see others as they are, not as we are, is key.

The Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way that they want to be treated.”

Consider the depth and breadth of changes in both mindset and behavior that this paradigm shift forces us to adopt. The Platinum Rule takes the focus off of “us” and puts it where it belongs; on “them.”

This naturally leads to the next question: “How do I know how she wants to be treated? How am I supposed to know what makes him happy?” But these questions only highlight the socially rich and integrated nature of this shift in focus, because in order for this to work…we have to know each other. Today, however, that may be easier said than done.

An unhealthy trend of social disconnection continues to flourish throughout the globe. With each subsequent generation becoming more disconnected and self-centered than the last it’s we’re not just becoming more self-centered but somehow less self-aware. These trends certainly shows no signs of letting up.

Disparity and Despair. Separation and Hopelessness.

Disconnection doesn’t only affect how we interact, it’s become a menacing weapon of divisiveness and heartache as well. It attacks it’s unwitting victims on two fronts. 1) Check the news tonight. How are we doing? Our isolation and disconnection has whipped us into a stubborn, locked-in, closed minded, civil rights crisis…again. 2) The comfort we’ve taken in isolation has lead to an alarming increase in levels of depression, anxiety, stress and stress related illness, physical and emotional abuse, addiction, obesity, and suicide. Sadly, all of these social-emotional conditions dance very nicely together while they mix a heartbreaking cocktail of disparity and despair.

As we continue drowning in a sea of faces gazing at digital devices, Ground Zero for our disconnection crisis is our teen population. As an educator, I notice that two teens will walk toward each other then both unconsciously reach for their phones, swipe up or down or right or left, just long enough to pass their approaching peer. Once passed, their phones are tucked away, having served their purpose; that being to avoid making eye contact at all costs.

It’s essential that, in order to bring the next significant step in our social evolution to fruition, we’ve got some homework to do. We need to plug in. We need to focus on the needs, wants, and feelings of others. At the same time, we need to make sure that we don’t do this in lieu of or in spite of our own needs and wants, but in addition to them.

So who’s where is our Knight in Shining Armor? What’s the answer? Who’s going to pull out of this downward spiral?

It’s not a “who”…but a “what.” Now here’s the hook.

Built stealthily into The Platinum Rule is an inherent necessity to connect. In order to do what’s right for others, we have to connect with them. We have to get to know them, and we can’t do this with our buried in our phones.

We can’t possibly know how others want to be treated, what makes them smile, what brings them peace and relief and hope and purpose…if we don’t know them intimately. We’ve got to know them and understand them in a truly private and personal way, and the only way to get there is through connection.

Ahhhh…but as we peal back another layer of the onion, we’ll find yet another hidden ally.

Learning what makes our friends and families tick is not difficult at all, nor is it complex. Sure, we might have some unhealthy social habits to work on, but we can knock those out. It’ll just take a little awareness and a little practice. But here’s where the rubber meets the road. Here’s where we’ve got to dig in and commit:

The only way to know a person intimately is to first earn sufficient trust. In a trusting environment, over time, they’re sure to open up to us. In order to earn that trust we need to listen. We need to listen with the sole intention being to understand.

We need to see into their hearts, and that’s never going to happen without a little, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” In order to earn their trust and with it the privilege of intimacy we’re going to have to let them in. We are going to have to, with humility and vulnerability, let see who we really are. We’ve got to open up ourselves. We’ve got the ability to do that, but do we have the willingness? That’s a question that we have to answer for ourselves.

So that’s it! Out with the old and in with the new! Let’s start making eye contact. Let’s start reconnecting. Let’s walk with humility and openness. Then, let’s start treating people the way that they want to be treated.

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