The Lackluster Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is a tired old thing that should be laid to rest.

I said I’d do it, and some of you didn’t believe me. Last week in my previous blog, I announced that I’d boldly challenge the rule of rules, the law that allegedly trumps all others, the law we’ve blindly followed for millennia never bothering to question its maddening existence, its unforeseen repercussions, and the havoc it wreaks upon our own lives.

“Do unto others as you’d have done unto you,” or so the saying goes. We’ve been force-fed this line since before we were old enough to even contemplate it’s true essence. Our parents, teachers, preachers, and God knows who else have beaten into us the message that we should treat others exactly how we ourselves want to be treated.

Does anyone else see anything glaringly wrong with this overly simplistic and dreadfully unnuanced approach to conducting one’s affairs in a modern civil society? Have any of you faithfully practiced the golden rule, applying it in every possible instance as if God himself were commanding you to do it, only to have your world continually blow up in your face? If this is you and you’re looking for a leg up on how to tame the ruthless mega volcano in your own backyard, the path to which you’ve diligently paved with nothing but the best of heartfelt intentions in futile hopes of one day stopping the punishing flow of molten rock, please continue reading. If, on the other hand, you’ve achieved every last modicum of success that life has to offer, and you owe it all to the adage I’ve personally come to loathe, by all means stop reading and continue on with that riveting game of Bubble Witch Saga 3 (Just beware…level 83 is a toughie, so good luck!).

Now, onto the challenge of dismantling a rule of biblical proportions.

First off, what does the rule in question imply? To put it simply, if you want to be treated a certain way, treat others in a similar manner. Or perhaps more accurately, aim to act toward others in a way that pleases yourself based on how you perceive that others should act toward you. For instance, using this logic, if I like to be told “Good morning” first thing after waking, I should exclaim the pleasant sentiment to others upon their waking, or shortly thereafter. Have any of you so-called “morning people” wished someone a hearty “Good morning” only to be met with a look of mild contempt by a less-than-enthused fellow housemate, family member, or colleague?

“What’s with them?” you wonder, taking offense to their unkind reaction to your warm greeting. “Somebody must have gotten up on the wrong side of the kitty litter,” you silently hum to yourself as you take a long refreshing sip of your French vanilla flavored coffee with a double shot of espresso for extra perk.

Unintentionally, you’ve stirred some unexpected animosity between the two you. But you aren’t to blame, are you? You merely wished someone a “good morning”.

I use this example because, as trite as it may seem, it illustrates perfectly the unintended consequences behind the proverbial “good intentions” of our wriggly little rule. We act in accordance with our purest heart based on own preferences, and we’re met with unanticipated (albeit mild) scorn.

If you did this just once to the unenthused person, no worries! You’re totally in the clear. Unless the person is a complete ass (I use that term as endearingly as possible), you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Go on about your caffeinated day and remember that tomorrow when you see so-and-so first thing in the morning, maybe let that person adjust to the room before uttering your cheerful howdy-do! Perhaps offer a kind smile instead, maybe a wink if that doesn’t seem inappropriate. Save the full on “good morning” for someone whom you know will undoubtedly appreciate it and return the sentiment in kind.

The concept of weighing possible reactions before they occur and adjusting your behavior accordingly is useful in countless other scenarios. In fact, it stems from a much bigger rule.

Once upon a time, I took a leadership training course. One of the most profound lessons I took away from it was the notion that if you’re seeking to communicate an important message or to make a request of someone else, it could be either a subordinate or superior, it behooves you to transmit the communication via the preferred method of the recipient. NOT your own preferred method.


How many of you have ever practiced this exact idea, maybe even if only subconsciously? You want to ask someone a huge favor, and you want to all but guarantee cooperation on their part. You know that the person in question responds best when asked face to face, and perhaps at a certain time of day, say…early afternoon just after lunch when hunger can no longer negatively influence critical decision making. Or you know that this person always prefers communication through email so that they are free to review the message at their leisure or according to their busy schedule.

Maybe you’ve never given a second thought to it. Maybe in the past, you’ve used your cell phone or left a  voicemail because it’s convenient for you, it’s what you’re accustomed to, it’s how you’ve always requested favors previously, or it’s how you’d like others to communicate important messages with you. See the problem? In this instance, you’re the one initiating the communication. FORGET the tried and true golden rule. It ain’t so tried and true anymore when we put things in a different light.

Instead, opt for the Platinum Rule.

If you’ve not heard of the Platinum Rule, it’s okay. In our self-absorbed culture (notice I didn’t say self-centered; I think we’re actually more than happy to be considerate of others when we know how), we don’t talk about this secret rule. Well, I for one would like to make this highly regarded law more visible. The most successful people among us undoubtedly already have this down to an exact science. It’s not that they’ve greedily kept it to themselves all this time. It’s that they’re so busy putting it into practice every waking moment of their lives that they can’t take time to lecture others on what they see as a common sense practice. They’re literally too busy making satisfied customers, loyal friends, and dedicated family members to train everyone else around them in a discipline that is already virtually embedded in their DNA.

So how can you get the Platinum rule to become second nature? Simple. By committing to put it into practice immediately. Start right now. Famed business guru Earl Nightingale once posed a question to his listeners on the radio: Who is the most important person in the world? You and I could think long and hard coming up with an appropriate answer to this unexpectedly easy riddle. Some might immediately think God or Jesus. But I’d argue that even both God and Jesus would politely disagree with you! The answer, according to Mr. Nightingale, is none other than the person standing right in front of you!

Earl Nightingale teaches us that the ultimate key to building successful relationships with others, and thus a successful life, is to treat those who stand in our presence with the utmost respect possible. If someone is standing in front of me, they’re automatically VIP. It’s the default status. In other words, respect isn’t earned, it’s freely given. Unless by chance, you come to realize it isn’t in your best interest to stick around. But I guarantee that if you put this simple practice to use, you’ll find virtually no reason to run from others. Ax murderers are so very few and far between. In fact, I have yet to encounter one. And I don’t expect to ever. I don’t even have to knock on wood. If in the highly unlikely event that I ever do come across one, I’ll know to run in the other direction!

So how do we show our innate and unconditional respect (substitute the word love if it suits you) to someone we meet for the first time, or even a new acquaintance? First things first. Ask them how they like to be addressed. If the person wants to be referred to as Dr. So and So, happily oblige. No need to ask for proof of their credentials. If they have a challenging name to pronounce, ask politely for clarification on how to say it, and sincerely apologize if you mangle it. But MAKE IT A POINT to get it right! And then, by all means, remember it. I don’t care what anyone says. We can all become great at remembering names. It may take some concentration to get this skill down, but I bet you that there are at least a dozen or more Youtube videos out their to give you pointers. It’s worth it to master this simple step, which will go a long way into perfecting the Platinum Rule.

Okay, so I keep mentioning this illustrious Platinum Rule as if one should already know it. So what is it exactly, and why should it override the other basic tenet we’ve grown so accustomed to using in the first place? Here it is, the Platinum Rule: (Drum roll please) Treat others as they’d personally like to be treated.

Perhaps you expected something more complicated? Ha! The reality is that as simple-sounding as this rule is, it is quite far-removed from its archaic and obsolete cousin. It requires a dual layer of empathy on the part of the practitioner. When we do this just right, we don’t just ask ourselves how we’d feel if we were in the other person’s shoes. Our own feelings are irrelevant. We’re going a few steps further. We’re instead asking ourselves to envision how they might feel in relation to our own actions – not from our perspective, but rather from theirs.

Impossible, you say?

If you know me in real life, you already know how I feel about that word. Nothing is impossible. A difficult task may very well be a mystery (quite possibly for an inordinate amount of time from the here and now), but it is not impossible. Why subscribe to impossibilities when we know but only a minuscule fraction of all there is to discover in the universe and beyond?

Now back to this concept of dual empathy, or rather empathy squared if you’re into exponents! How do we get inside someone else’s head?

Oh, how I love suspense! Don’t you?

Well, I’ve purposely made it sound more complicated than it actually is just to make you think I’m a magician or proficient in the realm of ESP. I’m not. Honestly, I go about this whole Platinum Rule thing in the least mysterious way possible. How so? I ask. That is to say that I deliberately take the time to open my mouth while vibrating my vocal chords in conjunction with the movement of my lips and tongue to formulate the questions that will most likely (when politely phrased) elicit the types of responses I need in order to work my magic.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites that you can tuck in your back pocket for a variety of instances if you feel particularly inspired. Here goes!

  1. What name do you prefer to be called?
  2. Do you have any special dietary preferences or restrictions?
  3. What is your ideal method of communication?
  4. How might I better serve you?
  5. Can I offer you a hand?
  6. Perhaps something to drink?
  7. Is there something special you wanted to do tonight?
  8. Can I assist you in making plans or getting you where you want to go?

These are a tiny sampling of open-ended questions that, when asked in the proper context, can help open your eyes and your mind to the desires and wishes of others and how they’d like to be treated. When asking any of these questions, be prepared for an infinite array of answers. For instance, a remarkable host always has numerous beverages on hand to accommodate a wide variety of tastes. If you have a limited budget, think bottled water, bottled juices, sodas, tea, and coffee. If you offer a hand to assist someone in accomplishing a task, be prepared to jump in and help if they require assistance. Don’t just ask to be courteous without actually intending to help. That’s disingenuous. 

If you ask a question, and someone happens to give a flippant, careless, or even joking response (it’s bound to happen), act as gracefully as possible in return. Don’t think you have to literally write any checks for a million dollars if someone asks. Laugh along and play it off, no matter how corny. It’s all part and parcel of perfecting the platinum rule. This all-important advice has nothing to do with protecting or cultivating our own fragile egos. On the contrary, it has everything to do with building meaningful relationships and connecting with more and more people on a deeply personalized level. And that’s something the world truly needs more of.






  1. Heather Banks


    This is excellent! I was certain that I would strongly disagree with the content of your post, but I read it anyway, and I could not agree more! Excellent points, and so well written. Thanks!

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