Everyone has heard of the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. At least in theory, we teach our kids this is a really important way to live life. Yet, somehow, it can be hard to apply it routinely in our everyday life. It’s easy to make excuses. It’s easy to rationalize our behavior. It’s even easier to just not pay attention.
However, treating others the way we want to be treated is crucial for good relationships. We hear people say they learn a lot about someone by how he or she treats servers in a restaurant. Fair enough to have opinions about who a person might be based on how they treat those helping them or serving them in public. What about at work? On the road? With co-workers or friends? Maybe most importantly, how are we doing with our children, partners and other family members?
Let’s think about some of the common ways people sometimes act opposite to the Golden Rule. There are business partners dealing dirty with other partners. There are those who stick other colleagues with extra work on weekends or holidays so their own load is easier or as a “gotcha”. There are parents who allow or encourage mean behavior from their kids. Other parents will blame the teacher when their kid acts up or doesn’t get something done. In sports we see parents screaming at coaches or refs if they don’t like what’s happening on a field or court. In higher level sports we see gaming the system or even outright cheating. While driving we see aggressive behaviors for no good reason. Other times we see people oblivious to the way their driving is affecting other drivers. Still other drivers are putting others in danger by texting or driving impaired
All of these behaviors are self focused in some way. Our culture here in the US encourages so much individualism that we sometimes celebrate self absorption. It’s normal to want things your way. Most people do. However, if you are going to be in any kind of relationship, compromise is key. Seeing the other side of things is also pretty big. Empathy is even more important. It all goes back to the Golden Rule.
Looking at the Golden Rule in action in relationships:
- Remember kids are human beings with feelings too. Ordering them instead of asking doesn’t feel good to them. (Yes, I know sometimes ordering is what happens after a bunch of not listening or sass). Please and thank you are appreciated by kids just like adults appreciate them.
- When the answer is going to be some version of no, validate why that stinks for them. Compare these two situations and see which one YOU would prefer: “I know it’s frustrating when you can’t play your video game. It’s a bummer. We need to get homework done right now though.” vs “Hey, you don’t play video games when you have homework to do. Get going!”. Kids feel the same way.
- Just like you don’t like it when they sass you while their friends are over to look cool, they hate it when you embarrass them in front of their friends.
- You know how annoying it is to hear your kids need something BIG the very next day and there’s been no warning? Kids feel the same frustration when they suddenly have to stop doing fun things without any heads up.
In committed relationships/marriage, the most basic litmus test is this: If you were on the receiving end of the same/equivalent behavior, would it be ok with you? If the answer is no, then it’s not going to be ok to do to someone else. In marriage, the Golden Rule means if I’d probably be ticked if you did something, it’s probably not cool to do it to you either.
- Leisure time: Yes everyone should get some down time. In relationships that ability needs to be balanced for both partners. If you expect to golf for 5 hours every Saturday and your spouse is always home managing kids, how do you think that feels? Are you giving equal time, without complaining, for your partner to be away and not responsible for the homefront? If not, you probably aren’t following the Golden Rule at home. Does your weekly shopping trip with friends cost more than you think would be fair for your spouse to spend on a hobby? If it’s not reasonable for your partner to spend that much, it probably isn’t ok for you to do so either.
- Chores: Sorry to pick on the guys here but even in 2018 there still is a tendency, on average, for women to have more chores at home, even if they work outside the home, than men take on. Stay at home moms tend to get it even bigger. Food for thought on the Golden Rule of chores: if you expect your wife to manage everything home and kids even after you get home from your job, consider then that she is on-duty 24/7/365. If you wouldn’t be cool with no time away from the job, she probably needs breaks too. If it would irritate you to be working at tasks while your spouse routinely reads the paper or watches TV, then make sure you aren’t the one loafing around.
- Talking to friends about personal stuff: Now it’s the women’s turn to sort of be picked on. Not everyone shares personal details or complaints about her partner but we women are more guilty of it than guys. I’ve dropped this ball myself. Think about this though–Would it make you squirm to know your guy was sharing details about your sex life with his friends? Guess what? He feels just as uncomfortable when you pick apart his bad habits over lunch.
- Decision making: Unless you and your partner have specifically divvied up which decisions get made by a specific person, most of these need to be shared. It stinks to be told what to do without input. When only one person knows about the family’s money, that doesn’t make the person in the dark feel good. If one person decides vacations have to be on the beach or the ski slopes but the other really enjoys history and museums, the Golden Rule means you take turns. Nobody likes a dictator—not even a benevolent one. Before you assume that it doesn’t matter to your partner, have you asked specifically how it makes him/her feel?
- Managing conflict: Passive-aggressive behavior is the OPPOSITE of the Golden Rule behavior. That’s an obvious one. However, applying the “do unto others” in this area can be trickier than some of the others. Here’s why—styles are different. In this case the Golden Rule is more about equivalent situations than being on the receiving end of an exact same behavior. Let’s say one partner (A) is comfortable with raised voices but wants to get things addressed. The other (B) is most comfortable just avoiding conflict altogether and yelling gives that person hives. In this case, the conflict avoider has to think about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of yelling. If that is not acceptable, then it’s probably not acceptable to not give the other partner (A) an opportunity to clear up the issue by avoiding. Partner A needs to be aware that getting loud feels as bad to the Partner B as never addressing things does to them. That one (A) needs to work to keep things calm while working on the problem.
So, a final word about the “litmus test” above for couples. It really is mostly about equal situations or feelings–not being on the receiving end of the exact same thing. Let’s say John can take teasing but Sue feels like that is ridiculing her. Sue doesn’t mind having things she doesn’t do well pointed out but John feels that makes him seem incompetent. The Golden Rule means John wouldn’t tease Sue and Sue wouldn’t point out what John doesn’t do well because in each circumstance the other partner feels less than valued. It doesn’t really matter if the same behavior wouldn’t bother the one doing it. The Golden Rule here is “would I want to feel those feelings? If not, I shouldn’t create them for someone else then either.”
In the spirit of the Golden Rule, I will share. I really don’t like it when I read blogs or advice articles that make me feel like the writer has it all down and I must be a total failure because I don’t. I don’t want anyone to have that experience reading this. EVERYBODY makes mistakes in practicing the Golden Rule behavior even psychologists, life coaches and gurus. Me too. So lets all just do our best to be conscious about what our behavior creates for someone else and try not to do things we wouldn’t like coming back at us. Sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it?