A New Golden Rule?

It’s not uncommon to find, in modern literature, the call for a new Golden Rule. But do we need a new rule, or is the one we already have adequate?

The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Some would say that this just isn’t enough: in our global village, we need to consider cultural differences and the desires of others. This thinking suggests that we humans have never found ourselves in a multicultural setting before now.

The new Golden Rule goes something like this: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. This mindset really reflects a narrow view of the original intent of the Golden Rule. In fairness, calls for a new rule point to the very real need to explain the meaning of the original. That it should and would need to be explained properly to each succeeding generation is a fact of life.

It should be noted that the term “Golden Rule” does not come from the Bible. However, the Bible does say that “however you want people to treat you, so [you should] treat them” (Matthew 7:12, New American Standard Bible). The rule has been stated in many ways for millennia. In the Egyptian story “The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant,” recorded on papyrus almost 4,000 years ago, we read, “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.” Similarly, the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca instructed leaders, “Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors” (Epistulae morales ad Lucilium 47.11). Clearly, human nature wasn’t much different back then.

Rules are tools designed to get us to think and behave in ways that we might not naturally be inclined to. Because we naturally look at things from our own vantage point, it’s not surprising that we look at the Golden Rule the same way—selfishly. But all rules should be considered in light of the thinking behind them, and this rule’s principle is one of selfless service to others. It teaches responsibility, awareness, ethics and outgoing concern, all of which should be manifested in our behavior if they are to have any meaning or value.

The rule has within it the implicit instruction to treat others thoughtfully—in the same manner of outgoing concern—as you would like them to treat you. Certainly none of us would want others to treat us in a way that shows disregard for our personal needs and feelings. The principle of the Golden Rule is selflessness. It is not meant to imply that you should do for others exactly what you want them to do for you. It’s not about you.

This rule is about how to treat others. It’s not a manipulative behavior to get others to do something for you. It’s an approach to how you should be treating others regardless of how they treat you. It’s not a training behavior to get others to do a specific act for you. “I did this for you, so now you should do this for me.” We are to treat others—in the same manner—as we would like to be treated by anyone we come into contact with.

The Golden Rule is a lesson that can hardly be introduced to children soon enough. It’s a prescript that should be followed throughout life. Properly understood, it does encompass cultural and personal differences and therefore needs no updating. Certainly, the intent of modern literature on this issue is to jog our thinking from a self orientation to an other orientation in our dealings with people. But that is exactly the point of the Golden Rule. And if practiced, it would go a long way toward improving our relationships.