Three Ways You’re Teaching the Golden Rule Wrong

teaching the golden rule

Everyone has heard the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s one of those basic rules that parents tell their kids to follow. But we may be showing our kids something different.

Here are three ways that we sometimes misinterpret or misapply the cherished Golden Rule:

1. Do unto others so they will do something good back unto you.

This attitude is really manipulation disguised as kindness. This twist on the Golden Rule is to treat others nicely, not because we would appreciate it if they treated us that way, but so we can now expect good things from them.  It’s I scratched your back…now you better scratch mine in some way. The spirit of the Golden Rule is to treat others like you wish to be treated without expectation one way or another of how they might treat you in return. It’s a spouse that thinks, I helped him/her with XYZ without being asked, so I expect to get a favorable response to my physical advances tonight. It’s a parent that thinks, I helped my child with his homework, now I expect my child to go to bed without complaining.

2. Do unto others precisely what you want them to do unto you.

This is similar to the first manipulation but with a very specific expectation. Instead of just hoping for something positive in return, this twisted form of the Golden Rule says, I’ll scratch your back…now you better scratch mine the same exact way. In a family, especially, this can be disastrous because it communicates that there are only a few limited ways to adequately express love and care to each other. If I do this to you, I’m shoving you into my own shoes instead of placing myself humbly into your shoes  to understand your needs and wants. It’s a spouse that thinks, I helped him/her with XYZ, now I expect that when I need XYZ, they’ll help me without complaint or prompting. It’s a parent that thinks, I helped without complaint when my child needed assistance at the last minute, now they better hop to it when I need unexpected help.

3. Do unto others before they do unto you.

This old joke is a cynical twist on the Golden Rule, and it forces us to look at others with a skeptical and guarded eye. This approach is, I’ll stab you in the back before you stab me. It’s the pain-inflicting and pain-avoiding view opposite of the Golden Rule. The truth is that to live the Golden Rule we have to take positive risks with people who may indeed turn on us or ignore us. But their response does not change the fact that when we choose to do right and treat them well, then we have followed the Rule rightly whether they do or not. It’s the spouse that thinks, I’m going to push his/her buttons before he/she has a chance to push mine and get me going. It’s the parent that says, I am going to let my child know that I see their stubborn complaining coming before they say a word, so they get the message loud and clear that I don’t appreciate it!

We are all bent towards self-centeredness, and we all need help with the Golden Rule from time to time. It guides us on how to treat others when we are tempted to wrong them and also when we’re struggling to forgive when we’ve been wronged by them.

What are some other ways you’ve seen the Golden Rule twisted in your family or elsewhere? How have you tried teaching the Golden Rule to your kids? Share your thoughts below.

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