The Golden Rule is Making the World Worse

The Golden Rule — treat others as you would like others to treat you — is well intentioned in that it asks us to extend fairness and respect to others. But the outcomes are not necessarily good.

The problem is that it is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption.

The assumption that you want what I want, that fairness and respect mean for you what they mean for me. And this is rarely true. This is particularly relevant given the evils caused by the racism and the violence we’re seeing these days.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of assuming my way is the right way, and then to treat others as I think I should, without taking into account what they want. This is dangerous because it can make them feel disrespected and I might end up resenting the fact that they are being unappreciative of my efforts.

And we don’t have to go halfway across the world to make a difference. This applies to how we treat people at work, at home, on the streets, and in social media. Lest we come across as jerks, we want to be careful NOT to treat others like we would like them to treat us, unless we’re sure that is what they really want.

Never assume you know what others want. The alternative is to practice empathy.

The golden art of putting ourselves in their shoes to figure out how they would like to be treated. And we will probably be surprised by how much that can differ from what we expected to be appropriate.

If we are going to build a more fair, generous and compassionate world, we’re going to need a better rule. Here’s an iteration:


Treat others as THEY would like to be treated.



  • While we can name values with the same “title” , what we “put”inside that box (te value) can be sensibly different. What we understand by friendship, for example, can differ considerably from others. The only way to know that difference is beyond empathy, I think, and has to do with effective communication , where listening is key.
    I’d add compassion as an important anchor as well

    Thanks Tobias for teh valuable insight

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