Treat Others As You Wish To Be Treated Essays
This is a positive version of “The Golden Rule.”
Don’t be surprised if someone seems to resent being told to “be good.” But the resentment may not come at all at the idea of “being good”: it may be because the person factually has a misunderstanding of what it means.
One can get into a lot of conflicting opinions and confusions about what “good behavior” might be. One might never have grasped—even if the teacher did—why he or she was given the grade received for “conduct.” One might even have been given or assumed false data concerning it: “children should be seen and not heard,” “being good means being inactive.”
However, there is a way to clear it all up to one’s complete satisfaction.
In all times and in most places, Mankind has looked up to and revered certain values. They are called the virtues.1 They have been attributed to wise men, holy men, saints and gods. They have made the difference between a barbarian and a cultured person, the difference between chaos and a decent society.
It doesn’t absolutely require a heavenly mandate nor a tedious search through the thick tomes of the philosophers to discover what “good” is. A self-revelation can occur on the subject.
It can be worked out by almost any person.
If one were to think over how he or she would like to be treated by others, one would evolve the human virtues. Just figure out how you would want people to treat you.
You would possibly, first of all, want to be treated justly: you wouldn’t want people lying about you or falsely or harshly condemning you. Right?
You would probably want your friends and companions to be loyal: you would not want them to betray you.
You could want to be treated with good sportsmanship, not hoodwinked nor tricked.
You would want people to be fair in their dealings with you. You would want them to be honest with you and not cheat you. Correct?
You might want to be treated kindly and without cruelty.
You would possibly want people to be considerate of your rights and feelings.
When you were down, you might like others to be compassionate.
Instead of blasting you, you would probably want others to exhibit self-control. Right?
If you had any defects or shortcomings, if you made a mistake, you might want people to be tolerant, not critical.
Rather than concentrating on censure and punishment, you would prefer people were forgiving. Correct?
You might want people to be benevolent toward you, not mean nor stingy.
Your possible desire would be for others to believe in you, not doubt you at every hand.
You would probably prefer to be given respect, not insulted.
Possibly you would want others to be polite to you and also treat you with dignity. Right?
You might like people to admire you.
When you did something for them you would possibly like people to appreciate you. Correct?
You would probably like others to be friendly toward you.
From some you might want love.
And above all, you wouldn’t want these people just pretending these things, you would want them to be quite real in their attitudes and to be acting with integrity.
You could possibly think of others. And there are the precepts contained in this book. But above you would have worked out the summary of what are called the virtues.
It requires no great stretch of imagination for one to recognize that if he were to be treated that way regularly by others around him, his life would exist on a pleasant level. And it is doubtful if one would build up much animosity toward those who treated him in this fashion.
Now there is an interesting phenomenon2 at work in human relations. When one person yells at another, the other has an impulse to yell back. One is treated pretty much the way he treats others: one actually sets an example of how he should be treated. A is mean to B so B is mean to A. A is friendly to B so B is friendly to A. I am sure you have seen this at work continually. George hates all women so women tend to hate George. Carlos acts tough to everyone so others tend to act tough toward Carlos—and if they don’t dare out in the open, they privately may nurse a hidden impulse to act very tough indeed toward Carlos if they ever get a chance.
In the unreal world of fiction and the motion pictures, one sees polite villains with unbelievably efficient gangs and lone heroes who are outright boors.3 Life really isn’t like that: real villains are usually pretty crude people and their henchmen cruder; Napoleon and Hitler were betrayed right and left by their own people. Real heroes are the quietest-talking fellows you ever met and they are very polite to their friends.
When one is lucky enough to get to meet and talk to the men and women who are at the top of their professions, one is struck by an observation often made that they are just about the nicest people you ever met. That is one of the reasons they are at the top: they try, most of them, to treat others well. And those around them respond and tend to treat them well and even forgive their few shortcomings.
All right: one can work out for himself the human virtues just by recognizing how he himself would like to be treated. And from that, I think you will agree, one has settled any confusions as to what “good conduct” really is. It’s a far cry from being inactive, sitting still with your hands in your lap and saying nothing. “Being good” can be a very active and powerful force.
There is little joy to be found in gloomy, restrained solemnity. When some of old made it seem that to practice virtue required a grim and dismal sort of life, they tended to infer that all pleasure came from being wicked: nothing could be further from the facts. Joy and pleasure do not come from immorality! Quite the reverse! Joy and pleasure arise only in honest hearts: the immoral lead unbelievably tragic lives filled with suffering and pain. The human virtues have little to do with gloominess. They are the bright face of life itself.
Now what do you suppose would happen if one were to try to treat those around him with
and did it with integrity?
It might take a while but don’t you suppose that many others would then begin to try to treat one the same way?
Even allowing for the occasional lapses—the news that startles one half out of his wits, the burglar one has to bop on the head, the nut who is driving slow in the fast lane when one is late for work—it should be fairly visible that one would lift oneself to a new plane of human relations. One’s survival potential would be considerably raised. And certainly one’s life would be a happier one.
One can influence the conduct of others around him. If one is not like that already, it can be made much easier by just picking one virtue a day and specializing in it for that day. Doing that, they would all eventually be in.
Aside from personal benefit, one can take a hand, no matter how small, in beginning a new era for human relations.
The pebble, dropped in a pool, can make ripples to the furthest shore.
The way to happiness
is made much brighter by
applying the precept, “Try to treat
others as you would want them
to treat you.”
- 1. virtues: the ideal qualities in good human conduct.
- 2. phenomenon: an observable fact or event.
- 3. boor: a person with rude, clumsy manners and little refinement.
The Golden Rule-do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is about as basic as morality gets. It’s the bridge between empathy and sympathy, between putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and making some accommodation to them as a result. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes is, of course, a figure of speech. What we really do is get a mind’s-eye view—a virtual experience—of ourselves in their situation.
How do we do it? Mostly through figures of speech.
We’re symbolic creatures. Unlike other life forms we can use words-cultural conventions in the form of “sign vehicles” (sounds and letter-shapes) that reliably bring to mind features of things. For example, while some animals see colors, we also give names to colors and use these names to make connections between otherwise unrelated things-red sky at morning; red light district; seeing red; black, white, and re(a)d all over; red light, green light.
Through symbols we mix and match features into a composite mental sketch that forms a fairly complex approximation of what it would be like to be another person. It’s this ability to draw far-reaching connections through the use of words that enables us to empathize in detail and to sympathize voluntarily—that is, to make sacrifices to accommodate others.
Suppose you’re out in the city with a friend and he asks if you could rest a while because his new shoes are killing him. You’d rather not, but lightning fast and effortlessly, through words (not necessarily spoken but at least thought) you compose mental composite sketches of yourself “in his shoes” with your feet “killing” you like his “kill” him.
“Lickety-split,” figures of speech like “walk a mile in his shoes,” “heartless,” “need breaking in,” “blister,” “brother’s keeper,” “he ain’t heavy,” and “the Golden Rule” act on you. Words and figures of speech enable you to compose recollections of a time you had new shoes that hurt and a friend stopped for you, and of a time in the future when your friend wouldn’t stop for you if you don’t stop for him now.
Animals are capable of doing quite violent things to each other, yet we don’t hold them to a human standard of morality. We don’t because we recognize that their capacity for empathy and sympathy is more limited than ours, limited by their lack of figures of speech. They can’t word their way to complex and subtle interpretations of each other’s feelings.
Humans, of course, are capable of vastly more violent acts than animals. With our capacity for symbolic thought, we can mix and match not only toward empathy but toward innovation, including innovative ways of destroying things. “Let’s see,” we say, “what if we crossed a rocket with a nuclear chain reaction with a computer. . . . ” By reverse-sympathy, we torture people by putting them in our shoes as we imagine the most excruciating pain that could be imposed upon us.
The way our complex symbolic capacity engenders both higher moral standards and more innovative ways and means to hurt each other makes us the most internally conflicted animals ever. But for that too we have the power of symbolic thought to aid us in rationalizing. We can also word our way to justifications for treating others to such torture: “He’s a servant of the devil and in God’s name should die the most excruciating death I can imagine.”
As it’s generally understood, the Golden Rule suggests that what you hope others would do to you should simply be identical to what you would do to them. In practice, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, which is one reason none of us apply it perfectly.
In my wildest dreams, I would have others do unto me all sorts of favors. I would have them accommodate my wishes, keep me from disappointments, bend over backward to make my life easy and successful. But I’m not about to do all that unto others. So the Golden Rule standard is not really about what I would have them do unto me but what I could reasonably expect them to do unto me given what I do unto them. Thus, in practice, the Golden rule is some sort of balancing act between “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and its reciprocal-”Expect others to do unto you as you do unto them.”
I just read “Mistakes Were Made: But Not by Me,” a new book about the ways we all naturally hold double standards, cutting ourselves far more slack than we cut for others. The book attributes this tendency primarily to a universal human need to reduce cognitive dissonance. You invest in some activity that doesn’t go right. You’re confronted with your failure. You can’t stand the dissonance between the hope you had for that activity and disappointment of its failure, so you side with hope, denying that you made a mistake.
We don’t experience cognitive dissonance about other people’s mistakes, so we blame them far more readily. We can be scathingly exacting in our criticism of others while granting ourselves all sorts of immunities.
A useful counterbalance to the Golden Rule, then, would be one that countervails against our tendency to do unto ourselves differently from what we do unto others. Instead of just fantasizing about the special treatment we would have others do unto us and then trying unsuccessfully to give them the same royal treatment, we should look at what we really do to other people, and mete out to ourselves the same in return—no special treatment at all.