Gold or Platinum? Beyond the (Incomplete) ‘Golden Rule’ May 31st, 2012
The so-called Golden Rule, “Treat others as you wish to be treated” is something we probably heard from teachers, parents, peers, etc. The rule was a way for us to think about how our actions or words impact other people.
I recently read a philosophy excerpt titled “The Moral Insight” by Josiah Royce. It explains how we do not see other people as real as ourselves. We come from a selfish self-centered point of view where we see other people as objects whose feelings are not as powerful or real as our own.
Royce explains how pity and sympathy are not enough to gain moral insight. When we hear of someone else’s experience we never really take it in as our own; instead, we may hear their experience but quickly forget it as if it really never existed. Sometimes we may feel their pain or joy in the moment but this quickly dissipates. The only way to gain true moral insight is to acknowledge others and their experiences as real as our own. Royce explains the moral insight:
“If he is real like thee, then is his life as bright a light, as warm a fire, to him, as thine to thee; his will is as full of struggling desires, of hard problems, of faithful decisions; his pains are as hateful, his joys as dear. Take whatever thou knowest of desire and of striving, of burning love and of fierce hatred, realize as fully as thou canst what that means, and then with clear certainty add: SUCH AS THAT IS FOR ME, SO IS IT FOR HIM, NOTHING LESS.”
This passage is very true for me. Would there be so much violence and hatred if we understood that the people we hurt are as real as we are? Would someone be able to bully and pick on others if they understood the pain they were inflicting, especially if they have experienced that same pain? Would it be as easy to use derogatory words like “gay” and “lame” as part of our everyday speech if we felt or understood the hurt these words caused? Just because these examples may not hurt you directly, the pain others feel from these experiences is as real as the pain you have experienced in other ways.
Understanding this makes it impossible to excuse our actions by simply saying “I don’t know why this word offends “them,” it’s just a word!” or my favorite “But that’s not how I meant it”.
The reading from Royce was very insightful; it completely changed my way of viewing the “golden rule”. I began to reflect on: What if someone doesn’t want to be treated the same way I want to be treated? Like Royce stated, our viewpoint comes from a self-centered experience and the pain one feels might not be the same pain another feels.
I grew up hearing the golden rule but it wasn’t until I began learning about how I can become a better ally, that I realized the golden rule was incomplete. I learned that treating others as they wish to be treated is a better “rule”; people often call this the Platinum Rule. One experience that helped me realize this rule happened my first year in college. I said a joke that hurt the LGBTQ community. I am not proud of this experience looking back but I was fortunate to have a friend of mine confront me about it. He explained to me how the joke was offensive and had the power to hurt people. I became very defensive; I told him that I saw no harm in my joke and to stop being so sensitive. I walked away feeling bad but not understanding why I felt that way. I kept thinking about the incident and realized that I did not need to “understand” why it hurt my friend, but simply that it had. I realized that just because I couldn’t understand his pain it did not make it untrue. Thankfully, I had the courage to speak to my friend about the joke and my reaction. I apologized for invalidating his feelings and this allowed us to have a very good conversation that taught me a lot about his experience in the LGBTQ community at OSU. I know that if I remained defensive I would have never learned all that I have from him.
Through my development I learned that the Platinum Rule is especially crucial when working towards becoming an ally to a marginalized community. The targeted community knows best what I can do to be an ally. I learned that I cannot approach allyship it thinking: “I know what to do and how to fix things.” I am not part of the community and do not know the experiences and pain they may feel. As an ally, you are coming from a point of privilege, so it may be hard for you to understand some of the feelings a targeted community may have. Acknowledging those feelings as true and valid as your own is the first step in becoming an ally.
Miguel Arellano, Community Relations Facilitators