Recasting the Golden Rule – Global Citizenship

  • The Golden Rule

Great rule of thumb – just it’s so trite, especially when said in that slightly patronising way teachers reserve for their pet pocket beliefs…”Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”.

Or you can put it negatively: “Don’t treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated”.

These ideas, or variations on them, are found in belief systems across the world and throughout the ages: Ancient Babylon, Greece, Egypt and China; Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Baha’i, Hinduism, Confucianism, Jainism, Sikhism… Everybody espouses the Golden Rule as central to harmonious living – a building block for a functioning society.

  • Let’s recast it

But…the person deciding what is or isn’t ok is “you”.

What if the rule stated: “Treat others as THEY want to be treated”. 

Just consider the subtle but crucial difference between that and the injunction to treat others as you want to be treated.

There’s a potential problem, as Moira (@globaldimension) perfectly reasonably pointed out, namely that there is a risk of huge assumptions being made about how others want to be treated. My answer is simply – then you’d have to work a little to find out how others did want to be treated. Ask them. They would be required to do the same to you.

  • Your favourite aunt

Imagine for a moment going to the home of your favourite elderly aunt, living on her own in her spotless home. When you visit, whose rules do you abide by? Hers, obviously. You mind your language, behave politely, take care not to put your feet on the sofa. Not because that is how you want to be treated in your home (you may not care about those things), but because you are treating your aunt as SHE wants to be treated.

Why can’t we show exactly the same repect and courtesy to everyone (sadists and psychopaths excepted)? We would not be obliged to act identically to others, but we would need to take their views into account when choosing ourselves how to act. This does not in any way prohibit disagreement, but it probably does proscribe the way that disagreement is expressed. Might this not provide a step forward in terms of multicultural understanding and cooperative living?

What do you think? What have I not thought through?

This idea was brought to my attention by my brilliant colleague Mary Young, having heard it said by Jane Elliot ( of the famous blue eyes/brown eyes experiments in schools).


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