The Platinum Rule
“Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” – George Bernard Shaw
“The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as they want to be done by.” – Karl Popper
“If the cat were you, and you were the cat, would you like that to be smashed flat, flat as a mat by a great big cat? The Golden Rule says no!” – Carol Lynn Pearson, My Turn on Earth
Ever since I was a little girl singing along to the My Turn on Earth records, I’ve loved the Golden Rule. But recently I’ve been thinking about how the Golden Rule alone can be misguided and produce less-than-desirable results. Two recent experiences illustrate this.
1. My visiting teaching companion loves to be challenged. She wakes up every morning and runs a couple of miles through rain, snow, or below-freezing temperatures. She eats up General Conference addresses and is always refining her list of goals. At one visit to a sister who is married to a member of the Catholic faith, my companion surprised me by challenging the sister to go to the temple and get her endowment. She then proceeded to ask this sister if she hadn’t done so before because her husband might not like the garment. This sister seemed caught off guard by the challenge and didn’t want to discuss the underwear issue. She was always much more guarded with us on subsequent visits.
2. This same companion later challenged another one of our sisters to pay a generous fast offering, telling her that there really is no sufficient tithe that is not accompanied by a substantial sacrifice in fast offerings. This might be an OK message for many members of the Church, but this sister had previously confided to us that she earned less that $15,000 a year and was the sole provider for her family of six. The sister quietly responded to my companion that she wasn’t ready to pay a generous fast offering yet, and that her goal was to eventually stop taking fast offering funds to support her family and to be able to pay tithing so she could regain her temple recommend. This sister replied with much more confidence than the first sister and seemed to forgive us right away, but I still ached that she was put in the situation to explain such private needs to us in her defense of rejecting the initial misplaced but well-meaning challenge.
I don’t bring these up to criticize my companion (and therefore thwart the Golden Rule as I write this). She is an amazing woman and good friend. I believe both of these instances occurred because she was following the Golden Rule and treating our sisters how she would want to be treated, challenging them how she would want to be challenged. These instances are just examples of something I observe from time to time in the Church, where the standards we set for ourselves might not be right at the time for someone else.
People are different. They are in different places in their lives and they have different circumstances. Treating them like ourselves without adding in the element of empathy and accounting for personality differences can take something that started with good intentions but eventually ends up causing awkwardness, pain, or offense. What’s that they say about good intentions anyway? To an extrovert, being asked to skooch in and sit closer to everyone else in the room may help her feel like part of a group, but to an introvert who likes to take the back row in Relief Society, the physical proximity to so many others can be, ironically, more alienating than allowing her to sit where she chooses.
Some non-extensive research on Wikipedia introduced me to the Platinum Rule, which is essentially taking the Golden Rule but instead of treating others how you want to be treated, you treat others how they want to be treated.
I have seen many Church members acting in accordance with the Platinum Rule. For example, my father has been involved in missionary-related callings for almost as long as I can remember. When I was younger, he was involved in huge reactivation efforts that were very stats driven, and I remember him making a difference in the lives of several people our Utah ward. Now he’s serving as ward mission leader again, but I was surprised to see that his approach has changed over the years. He recently showed me his current ward mission plan. The first item read, “Reach out in friendship to all those living within our ward boundaries with no other agenda.” I think he’s on to something. Living in Utah can sometimes be a socially isolating experience for those who are not LDS, and he wants to focus on letting all of his neighbors have a positive experience with the Mormons they live with. His second point was also amazing: “Allow those of other faiths to teach us about their beliefs. Be humble and willing to learn from their beliefs.”
Don’t mistake my dad’s testimony. If he were to strictly do unto others as he would have done unto him, he’d definitely be more forceful in sharing the gospel that he treasures and believes is the only road to salvation, exaltation, and eternal families. But that kind of zealousness from “knowing the truth” and wanting everyone else to see it your way can be off-putting, and I respect his willingness to pause and listen to his friends of other faiths. Remember that scripture in Alma 38:12 on bridling one’s passions? I find it interesting that it pertains to not being too overbearing with one’s own certainty of the truth.
So, here’s my case for adding empathy to the Golden Rule. While we’re at it, a dash of personal revelation might help us meditate on what others want. Personal revelation and discernment allow us to find what’s best for a given situation, and sometimes what is right for your situation is not right for others. Giving them that right to be different from you might be the most ethical treatment of all.