The golden rule is wrong, and this is why.

As an imperfect human being I often need to be reminded of things I’ve learned. I’ve decided to set a few down here so I can be easily reminded of them and perhaps provide the same service for a few internet wanderers.

1. What you think is important in a friendship or relationship is likely completely different than what the other person thinks is important.

This might seem obvious, but most of us (at least people my age and younger) completely fail to give it its due emphasis. From what I’ve seen this is actually at the root of the vast majority of failed relationships. I remember very clearly when I first realized it was a big deal. It was when my relationship with my first girlfriend started failing. It took me a while to figure it out because it was initially completely outside my sphere of comprehension that she could possibly value things in the order she did. Furthermore, when I did figure it out I dismissed her priorities as wrong. I didn’t make much of an effort to meet them, and instead focused on complaining about how she didn’t prioritize the things I did. She of course responded in kind. We were both trying to follow the golden rule, both thinking we were doing everything right and the other person was being impossible. Needless to say, things did not work out. This illustrates what for me is the hardest part: acknowledging the other person’s values as equally important even if they make little sense to you. This is incredibly difficult for me, and probably a lot of other people as well. A friend of mine offered me a suggestion that I found helpful. He said I should think of their values as if they were the values of a foreign culture. It really is essentially the same, and I’m already in the habit of treating foreign cultures as “not wrong, just different” which is exactly the mindset we need. But, even if you can’t get to the zen-like point where you give the other person’s values equal validity, just the recognizing and believing that those values exist and need to be prioritized can go a long way.

As a footnote, the article 5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You is what sparked the discussion with my friend and is an interesting read. It was slightly mind boggling to me because I’m sure I do those things all the time and it never occurred to me that they would make people upset because most of them simply wouldn’t bother me.


2 thoughts on “The golden rule is wrong, and this is why.

  1. I’m going to guess you have heard of “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. If not, it’s a bit cheesy, but the main idea of the book relates to this; how we express love and how we feel loved is different than our friends/partners.

    (your former housemate)

    • Hi Kayla! Yes, as you said, a bit cheesy but the underlying idea is extremely important. For someone who’s already read it I just want to emphasize how broadly it can be applied, how drastic the differences can be, and how easy it is to miss them or even not *really* believe them after you’ve heard them.

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