The Golden Rule Is for Strangers. Use the Platinum Rule for Those You Know Well.

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Image by James St. John / CC BY

Pretty much everyone has heard of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It’s in the Bible of course. In there multiple times actually. And it’s also a self-help super hit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it in my life. (Likely thousands.)

The Golden Rule Is for Strangers. Use the Platinum Rule for Those You Know Well.

Trouble is that while the Golden Rule does work sometimes (and is solidly better than nothing) it’s not always the best way to interact with people. Don’t get me wrong — the Golden Rule can be a fantastic guideline when you’re trying to be good to people you don’t know. When you have no map of what they could possibly need, what their preferences are, their likes and dislikes, rather than freezing in terror — not knowing how to interact with them at all — it can be a good idea to default to extending the behavior that you like to receive.

But once we do get to know people — and if we find that their likes and dislikes are indeed different than ours — then the Golden Rule is no longer the best standard to use. Instead, there is the Platinum Rule that we should follow: i.e., do unto others as they’d like done unto them.

When you know better, do better.

Before you know what they’d like done, sure, Golden Rule. But if and when you know what they’d like done unto them (whether by observation or asking them), and particularly if they’re someone close to you — like a dear friend or a lover — it’s ideally no longer about your preferences but theirs. It’s Platinum Rule time.

Again, the Platinum Rule is treating others how they want to be treated.

And it’s important to adhere to it. Because not everyone likes the same thing. Part of what makes the world beautiful is that we have differences. (And boundaries are individual and personal.)

The key here is treating the other person how they want to be treated, whether or not that looks like how you want to be treated.

Another Angle: The Golden Rule Works Just Fine, So Long As You Keep Its Application General

Sometimes I’ll hear the counterargument that there’s no need for the Platinum Rule. That the Golden Rule works just fine — you just have to make sure you keep its application general and not take it literally. One for one.

Instead, some argue, you must stay at the level of broad strokes, of overarching principles.

For example, pretty much every person I’ve known wants other people to respect and honor their personal boundaries. Now, the funny thing about boundaries is that they’re very individual. I have friends who absolutely hate being called on the telephone under any circumstances. They are very clear that you should always text them. If you call them, they will become annoyed and perhaps even feel disrespected.

Conversely, I have had other friends who have insisted if you are sad or lonely or need anything that you should call them. Some of them state that this is something you can do anytime day or night.

With a specific application of The Golden Rule, the person who wants others to call them anytime day or night, very well might call the “text only please” person and find no problem with it. Since they’re treating someone else the way they want to be treated. Quite literally.

But, some folks argue, if the “call me anytime day or night” person takes a more general/holistic view of the Golden Rule, they’ll remember that first and foremost they want their boundaries respected. And if they know the other person has a boundary of “text only please,” then they’ll be able to follow The Golden Rule into treating that other person differently in this specific incidence (not calling them) but the same in the bigger picture (respecting their boundaires).

In Any Event, Don’t Continue to Project Your Preferences & Needs Onto Other People After You Get to Know Them

I don’t care much either way how you get there. What’s important to me is that you get into the habit of moving away from projecting your own preferences and needs onto other people once you’ve learned more about who they are and what they want.

What you call that is at best a second order concern.

That said, I do find that taking a global approach to The Golden Rule invariably requires a touch more mental gymnastics than simply adopting a Platinum Standard for people we know. And while I don’t mind a bit of mental gymnastics myself (and I suspect neither do those who propose The Golden Rule is just fine with this caveat), I do suspect the extra strain would be off-putting for some people. And perhaps it might be extra mental strain I’d be more likely to skip past in situations where I’m feeling emotionally heated.

That’s why I’ve personally found it a lot more straightforward and clear to shift to the Platinum Rule as I get to know people. To stop thinking about myself (as the Golden Rule tends to center things around the self) and start centering my behavior around the other person and what they want and need via the Platinum Rule (once I know them better and how they operate).

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Note: I also wrote about this concept in another recent post, but I decided it was an important enough principle to bear repeating and warrant its own article.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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