One of the basic guidelines that I try to live my life by is the Golden Rule. It’s a simple statement that pops up in almost every world religion and many significant works of philosophy.
Simply put, treat others as you would like to be treated.
All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:1
I apply it pretty simply. Whenever I’m in a situation where there’s a significant interaction with another person, I simply stick myself into their shoes and ask how I would like to be treated if I were in that situation. I use that as a balance against my own interests and strive for a point where we can both walk away happy and fulfilled.
What happens, time and time again, is that when I treat others in that way, they generally reciprocate at least in kind. People seem to expect that the other guy is generally out there to take advantage of them, and when that doesn’t happen, they’re actually happy and respond with similar behavior. In other words, if you treat others better, they will treat you better.
Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. – Analects 12:2
Beyond that, though, you’ll start feeling better about yourself. If you apply the Golden Rule consistently, you begin to genuinely feel (and with good reason) that you’re a good person, and that will lead to more self-trust and genuine self-esteem.
These are huge, life changing rewards. They alter almost every interaction you have with other human beings, elevating them to a level where they’re much more enjoyable, you feel much better about the value exchange, the other people walk away with a great impression of you (which spreads via word of mouth), and you don’t find yourself having to deal with burnt bridges.
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. – Udana-Varga 5,1
Yes, there are many good arguments against the Golden Rule, the biggest one being that there are no moral absolutes and that you are making an assumption about what the other person would consider good and bad. Take, for example, a masochist – you would not want that person operating Even given that, you’ll find that the Golden Rule ends with a positive result the vast majority of the time, particularly when dealing with day-to-day life within your own culture.
For the remainder of this article, I’m going to offer up ten examples of how you can take advantage of the Golden Rule in your everyday life. Take these not as hard-and-fast rules, but examples that you can utilize and modify to the situations in your own life.
This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. – Mahabharata 5,1517
If someone asks you for a small favor, do it. If you can accomplish that favor with little effort or in just a moment or two, always say yes. The tiny amount of time and energy you have to invest in the task is well worth the goodwill it earns you.
If someone asks you for a big favor, consider it. It’s easy to say “no” when a request sounds difficult, but you’ll often find that it’s not as difficult as it initially seems. Take a look at your life. Is there any reason you couldn’t burn a Saturday afternoon helping a friend move? Is there any reason you couldn’t help out with a project on Tuesday after work?
Woe to those… who, when they have to receive by measure from men, they demand exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due – Surah 83
Be friendly. Whenever you interact with people, interact in a positive fashion. Look for good things to say or simply don’t say anything at all. Whenever I hear someone say something negative, I usually just nod my head, say “Yeah…,” and then change the subject.
When you see someone in need, help. If someone drops their package, pick it up for them. If someone is approaching a door, hold it for them for a second (I do this for men and women – it’s not a chivalry thing or a sexist thing, just a courtesy thing). If someone is having difficulty finding exact change, drop a quarter in their hand.
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. – Talmud, Shabbat 3id
Listen to what others are actually saying. Don’t spend the time when someone else is speaking or when you’re reading what someone else has written to already be writing the response in your head. Try to figure out what they’re actually saying. If you don’t have an understanding of what they’re saying, you can’t formulate a good worthwhile response.
Cut out the criticism. Criticism is easy. There’s virtually nothing in the world that isn’t somehow wrong and we can all find ways to correct it. The thing is that most people are trying hard to achieve something and criticism simply deflates their efforts. There’s no easier way to convince someone to no longer bother to help you or to interact with you than to just toss out criticisms at them all the time. Look for positives 99% of the time and keep the criticism to yourself.
Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. – Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
Recognize the independence of others. Do you like to be told what to do? Neither do most people. You can’t control the details of the lives of others, and trying to do so builds resentment (whether you see it or not). Back off the minutiae and let others do their own thing. Yes, even if they’re doing it wrong. They’ll ask you for help if they want it.
Act in accordance with what you value. This goes for big things and small things. If you think being courteous to others is important, be courteous to others. If you think stopping world hunger is important, donate some money to organizations that fight world hunger. If it’s something you value, directly support it and act upon it. Don’t just talk a good game. Do something. People respect actions far more than empty words, and you’ll respect yourself more, too.
That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5
Before you interact, think. If you know you’re about to interact with someone, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. What needs to happen for them to walk away feeling good and happy with you and with what went on? The goal of an interaction is not just to get what you want out of it, but to make sure the other person walks away happy. Sending people walking away upset just ends up hurting you in the long run because it makes every future interaction with them more difficult and also adversely affects your interactions with everyone they’re close to. Think for a moment and you’ll avoid this.
Don’t be afraid to let down your guard. This one goes out there to all the people who clam up in social situations, which I sometimes do. Imagine what would happen if everyone clammed up in those situations. Would that be enjoyable? Would you want to be around those other people? Open up a little, even if it means the potential of mild self-embarrassment (which is usually a positive if handled with grace).
Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. — Bahá’u'lláh
In the end, you have to make the decision as to how you want others to interact with you. If you treat others like you want to be treated, they’ll pick up the cue. If you treat others horribly, rest assured they’ll pick up on that cue, too.
What you’ll find is that treating others well feels good, results in others treating you well, and ends up building a positive reputation for you. That’s a triple win.