The Golden Rule: Not the Whole Answer

“Treat others the way you want to be treated”. Well and good. But what happens when another acts in a way you would never act, and have never acted?

Extreme example. Someone tries to kill you. Do you treat this person the way YOU would wish to be treated had you tried to kill them? How? Initiating violence against another never even enters your mind. Another extreme example: stealing. How do you treat someone who steals from you the way YOU want to be treated, if you stole — something you’d never do? It doesn’t apply.

So too with less obvious examples. Someone lies to you. Or betrays you, even in a seemingly small way. They talk behind your balk, or act two-faced. Or they fail to keep any of their commitments or promises. To you it’s large. You’re authentically outraged. Why? Because you didn’t betray this other person. He or she betrayed you. He or she broke important promises. You never did the same, and know you never would have done the same. So how do you project on to this person what YOU would want?

The flaw in the Golden Rule leads people to routinely violate it, as a rebellion against it. They sense the contradiction, but never identify it and dare not question it for fear of criticism from signifcant others. And then, when they do break it, they feel guilty — at least good people do.

But the issue never gets resolved. Generation after generation, we all play this out, whether on the international stage of economic commerce and warfare, or in the routine, private details of our daily lives, relationships, friendships and associations.

My point? The Golden Rule isn’t the whole answer. You need justice, too. You need accountability. You have to be expected to be held accountable — not just by people, but by the nature of reality — for your evasions, choices or errors. And it’s just as important to hold others accountable, as well — in proportion to whatever they choose to do.

Empathy matters. But justice matters more.


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