Throw Away ‘The Golden Rule’

DenaJanuary 30, 2012 | Raccoon Family“Treat others the way that you would like to be treated.” You’ve heard it all your life. From the time you were old enough to understand, your parents advised you of the golden rule. Today, I’m asking you to forget it. It’s terrible advice! Treating others the way that you want to be treated was probably responsible for every failed relationship that you’ve ever had.


I hope that you just had a light bulb moment. When I realized this, I know I sure did. I realized it for the first time during a training seminar. It was a course for first-time supervisors. We were talking about what drives people toward success or what “motivates” people to be their best selves, to perform optimally. The instructor gave us a quiz that we could share with our employees. It asks them to rate potential motivators from least to most important using a scale from 1 – 10, 1 being the most important and 10 being the least important. The motivators included things like money, freedom, creativity, public recognition, and so on. The thought behind the test being that every person is motivated by something different. For one person, the way to get them to perform might be regular salary increases. Other people don’t care as much about compensation as they do about public recognition or the ability to be creative.

I thought about this for a minute and then it really clicked. I had been attempting to motivate my employees with motivators that motivated me. It stretched far beyond that, too. For my entire life, I had been treating people the way that I wanted to be treated. I never stopped to consider that perhaps this person does not want what I want. Perhaps he or she wants what he or she wants. I realized that the golden rule is a sham.

It wasn’t long before I began to take my new perspective and apply it to all of my relationships. Rather than treating my mother the way that she wanted to be treated, I had been treating her the way that I wanted to be treated. Rather than treating my friends the way that they wanted to be treated, I had been treating them the way that I wanted to be treated. And perhaps, most importantly, rather than treating my partner the way that he wanted to be treated, I had been treating him the way that I wanted to be treated. I say that this is most important because it had the most dire consequences. And I’m certain that if you think about it, you will relate.

Romantic relationships, while often the most rewarding, can also be the most difficult to manage. One of the biggest reasons why divorce is so common is because people do not get this simple idea. We must take the time and effort to learn how our partners want to be treated. To illustrate why this is so important, let me share an example from my own life.

Matthew and I have a lot in common. That is why we have been together for five years and why we are getting married in June. However, we are also different in many ways. Perhaps the thing that makes us most different is the way that we handle conflict. I am a talker, a thinker, and a cuddler. When I am angry or hurt or sad, I want Matthew to be there for me in every way. I want to talk things out. I want to be held. I want sympathy. We have come to the conclusion that I am almost like a child in this sense. I long to be “babied.” Matthew, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. When conflict arises, he immediately longs for solitude. He shuts up and shuts down. He wants to be left alone.

Now imagine what happened for the first couple of years of our relationship when Matthew got angry and I started to treat him the way that I wanted to be treated (like a baby!). Not surprisingly it didn’t go over very well! We played this horrible dance for years.

It’s alright to treat people the way that you want to be treated, but only if that is the way that they want to be treated, too. In our case, when it came to conflict, each of us wanted to be treated in very different ways. It took awhile for us to figure this out; but when we did, the reward was tremendous. Like all couples, we still struggle through it. Sometimes, it’s difficult. For example, when conflict arises and I want to talk it out, I have to be extremely vigilant to make sure that I give Matthew the time and space that he needs. And likewise, when I am hurt, he has to be very aware to make sure that he gives me the attention and nurturing that I am seeking. These behaviors go against our natural inclinations because they are not the behaviors that we would seek for ourselves, but making the extra effort pays off big time.

This principle can be applied to any relationship–whether personal, professional, or whatever have you. I know that many people live by the golden rule. Maybe you don’t need to throw it out completely, but if you can make a small adjustment, it may just prove to enhance every relationship that you’ll ever have.

In love & light,

Comments (9)

  • Jcmoffitt

    January 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Dena, that is a very thought provoking post. 🙂 i think that you bring up a good poimt with regards to finding out how your mate wants to be treated in the relationship. I have heard it called their “love lamguage”. How does someone want to be loved. We are all different and respond to different things in different ways. I think that the spirit of the golden rule helps us to focus on how we treat others. We should treat people better than how we would want to be treated. We should put the needs of others above our own. In the materialistic and power hungry world we live in, that can be difficult at times.

  • michelle

    January 30, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Wow I have never thought of that before

  • Andra Watkins

    January 30, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Treating people with dignity and respect is always the best policy. Whether that’s the Golden Rule or not doesn’t matter to me. I try (and, much of the time, fail) to treat others with dignity and respect, the right way to behave regardless of how someone is treating me. In relationships requiring more investment – like ones in the workplace, friendships or love and family – we always must respond to the needs of the other person. The essence of the Golden Rule (and what makes it so hard for me) is to do the right thing regardless of what the other person does for/to/with you. I struggle with this a lot with my writing and blogging. I give a lot to other people in the blogosphere and spend much (wasted) time angry about how little of it actually comes back to me, when I shouldn’t really care about that part of it. Good post, Dena. You are a wise lady.

  • Lou Mello

    January 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I have always tried to use the Golden Rule as a guide in how I treat others, but, must agree that it can be somewhat simplistic in complex situations. Both you and Andra make some excellent points about how to recognize and respond to the needs of others in any type of involved relationship. I continue to try to treat folks fairly and respectfully because that is what speaks to me about the Golden Rule. It doesn’t always work out, though, and in cases where no matter what ones does, the other person is going to treat you poorly, you just have to walk away.

    An excellent post and very perceptive.

  • Mark David Robertson

    January 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Uncanny–I was just thinking about this. A fortune would ruin me! Buying alcohol for an addict follows the golden rule, but it’d be his ruin. It is The Creative Genius of Love that calls for a justice higher than all rules. It is beyond any ethic; but it is hard for us to live in total awareness of the situation, isn’t it?
    The golden rule is “calculated justice”–that which we “should” want for the other; Love infinitely transcends this because it is “creative justice.” We do to our family and our partner what is most loving (and what can be immensely unnatural).Thank you for writing this, Dena. 

  • Lorra Fae

    January 30, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Agh, BRILLIANT. I completely agree!  I realized this a few years ago, when I discovered Byron Katie’s work. I applied her methods and came to these conclusions – your post really makes it clear. Love it, and will share.

  • Andrew Caldwell

    January 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    I read this post approximately … 13 minutes after having an awful heated discussion with my significantly better other half. So really… you could have posted this a day prior and I’d be in the clear!

    Great insight Dena.

  • Rebecca

    January 31, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I love this post! Your description of you and your partner could just as easily apply to me and mine. He describes himself as a caveman who just wants to go and sit in his cave by himself when things get a bit heated. But, like you, I’m always there, desperate to talk things over…

    You’ve certainly given me food for thought.

  • Kristinkielar

    February 9, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Dena, I LOVE THIS POST because my relationship mirrors yours in this regard. It took me a long time to pinpoint it, though. The way you have worded this is excellent, and I appreciate your other examples.

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