We are all familiar with the ‘Golden Rule’ or ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ but are you familiar with the ‘Platinum Rule?’
The Golden Rule v. the Platinum Rule
If the Golden Rule (GR) is framed as “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” then the Platinum Rule (PR) is “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” The idea came about because some thought the GR does not go far enough – we also need to think about what others want, not just what we would want.
The Golden Rule can be found in almost every religious text since 551 BC, across cultures and ideologies. We teach it to kids in school, and almost everyone is familiar with it.
The Platinum Rule, on the other hand, aims to get at the other part: how do you know how others want to be treated? Well, you kind of have to find out. Be curious. Ask questions. Be open to what others have to say. Put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Have empathy.
Because each of us goes through the world with our own set of experiences and develops an individual perspective, sometimes it can be hard to think about how others might want something else. We all have different struggles, backgrounds, privileges, and blind spots that might make us miss the mark with the Golden Rule – but this would be covered by the Platinum Rule.
Applying this fosters a sense of belonging and welcome – instead of (perhaps inadvertent) alienation or cruelty. Not everyone likes the same things. Not everyone has the same values. Yours are not better than theirs – they are just different.
Take something super simple: what is your favorite food, TV show, movie, or vacation spot? When someone has a different perspective, do you challenge them? Do you make your favorite dessert to celebrate their birthday? No, of course not!
When we assume that others want the same things we do, it results in a distortion or disconnect that makes everyone uncomfortable and uncertain. It is kind of like when a friend is struggling and we say “Let me know if I can help” – but we never take them up on it. It is a lot more helpful to do something, and even better if you can really think about what your friend would want and do that. Without pressure or expectation, just do something that you think they would find helpful. It is the same concept behind bringing food to someone who has lost a loved one – but make sure it is something they would want to eat, not your favorite!
Here is an example: years ago, a co-worker had a baby, and they were at home for a couple of months. Another co-worker organized the staff to bring meals to their house a couple times a week for several weeks. At first, I sent a text saying “Is there anything you don’t eat?” but of course, she said they eat everything. So I sent her a list of a few things I make well and asked her to pick which two sounded good to her. I was aware the whole time that it may be a bit of a pain to keep asking her questions, and later, she told me that she hated making decisions and that picking was easier than guessing what someone could bring or make. This is heading in the right direction.
When my dad died, I got really tired of people asking what they could do (among other things, which I think is true for everyone). The friends that know me the best would just reach out when they were thinking of me, just text or whatever, and that was actually much more comforting than people who avoided me because they did not know what to say, or others who would come to ‘cheer me up’ but were really just exhausting for me at that time. That would just make me feel negative (guilty, irritated) and that was not what anyone in the situation was intending.
Looking back to the above examples, I see that it was easier for me to have compassion for others and much harder to have compassion for myself – even or maybe because of my grief. Even in that situation, I was more comfortable taking care of others than myself. Because of situations like these, I would submit an additional layer to the golden and platinum rule: self-compassion.
Compassion & Self-Compassion
You might think that compassion and empathy are the center of the Golden Rule already. But if we’re talking about self-compassion, then the GR does not really apply – it is all about others.
That is a good place to start – compassion towards others. But we need to apply it to ourselves as well if we are going to really apply any of these rules. The research thus far extolled the virtues of self compassion and leaves us with no discernable downside to it – even researchers who hypothesized that self compassion would make you self-indulgent proved themselves wrong.
Charter for Compassion & the Golden Rule – TED Talk – Karen Armstrong 2008
Importance of Compassion & Kindness – Psychology Today
I talk to a lot of people about the concepts of compassion and self-compassion. When you really sit and think about it, how weird is it that we all have these double standards? That we all expect something different of ourselves than we do of others? How often would you talk to another person like you talk to yourself about yourself? How often would you give a friend the same advice or direction that you give yourself? How often do you treat yourself with as much kindness as you treat a friend or a pet?
Usually, the answer is “never.”
Just like I have never spoken to someone who has the same compassion for themselves that they do for others without having to think that through. Applying the tenets of self compassion (mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness) is not easy or natural for many of us. As with so many things, we have to practice it and become aware of what we are doing in order to change.
Why is Self-Compassion So Hard For Some People?
I wish I could come up with a good name – something to make people remember the other rules as well as the one that says “do unto yourself as you would do (and want others to do) to your dearest friend.”
If you come up with a good name, let me know!
More articles about compassion & self-compassion on the blog:
Perfectionism’s Antidote: Self Compassion
Fill Your Cup 2023 – Compassion
Kindness, Curiosity & Compassion – World Kindness Day 2022