Why you should toss out “The Golden Rule”

“Don’t treat others the way you want to be treated, treat them the way you think they would want to be treated”

So many of our struggles and frustrations in this world come from feeling misunderstood. Identifying the issues we have and communicating about them openly can help with a lot of these misunderstandings. This is why communication has become so important to me as I have explored various relationships over the years. But I am also learning that it can’t just be any communication, it needs to be constructive and done in a way that fosters connection and mutual understanding. Simply forcing a conversation upon someone who does not want to talk or isn’t ready to listen is not going to make anything better.

A different point of view

Lately I have been doing a lot of examining my behaviors and beliefs and realizing that I am actually not very good at seeing things from someone else’s point of view. I mean truly trying to see something the way someone else sees it. I have always thought I was good at this, that I was open and empathetic and good at understanding where other people are coming from. But I’ve realized that I am still usually putting my own lens over whatever I am considering, even when I’m trying to see it from another person’s perspective. It doesn’t mean that I’m not an understanding or empathetic person, and often I am correct in my perceptions of a situation or of someone’s feelings, but there are many times when I am not correct and that can be detrimental to my relationships, whether romantic or platonic.

It can be so hard to really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to see things from their perspective and understand what they are thinking or feeling without putting our own judgements on it, especially when we are in the middle of a conversation. I have learned over the years that I am stubborn and, like many people, I can have a hard time admitting when I am wrong. When I get into an argument or a disagreement, it can be hard to get out of that stubborn space, to step back and approach the situation with love and actually try to understand that the other person’s motivations may be different than what I am perceiving.

Something I’ve been focusing on lately is learning to recognize that they way I perceive someone’s actions can often be wrong. It sounds like a simple thing, but it has big consequences. Time and time again in my life, I have thought I knew exactly what someone else was thinking or what they intended with their words, only to find out through a later conversation that I was way off base. I am finally realizing that if I allow myself to be wrong in my assumptions and either gather more information or assume the best rather than the worst, I can avoid a lot of conflict and hurt feelings.

I have always thought that because I am a social person who is good with people, I am pretty good at interpreting behaviors and knowing what is going on in someone’s mind. But the truth is that it is very hard to actually know what is really going on in anyone’s brain but our own (and even that is challenging at times!) Learning to accept that I may be wrong about another person’s motivations, thoughts, feelings, etc. is helping me to see that there may be other things going on that I am not aware of, that how I am perceiving their behavior may not be how it is intended.

Because I am afraid that I will be unworthy of someone’s love, afraid of not belonging, my default when I don’t understand is to assume that someone is mad at me, or doesn’t like me anymore, or is annoyed by me. I have to work to understand that people’s behavior often has nothing to do with me, that it is coming from something they are experiencing internally rather than being caused by me. Most people have very good reasons for acting the way they do, even if they do not seem like good reasons to me. I am working on shifting that perspective and changing my default to a belief that the people in my life generally love and care about me and value my friendship, even if in this moment it doesn’t feel that way.

Understanding the opposite sex

I recently read John Gray’s book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and although it may seem cheesy, it actually has some very valuable insights into how men and women handle situations differently! If you don’t feel like reading a whole book, check out his TED Talk, which offers many of the key points from the book.

The problem is that we expect other people, both men and women, to handle an issue the way that we would handle it. When they don’t, we feel hurt or frustrated that they didn’t respond in the way that we would. We forget that members of the opposite sex have intrinsic differences and that their actions may mean something different than how we perceive it.

Obviously, these are broad generalizations and will not always be correct, but having a general baseline understanding that we all have different patterns and beliefs that cause us to interpret and handle each situation in our own unique ways can be the start to approaching a miscommunication in a more understanding and loving way, rather than automatically being frustrated. I have met a lot of men and women all over the world and while there are certainly exceptions to each rule, I saw a lot of parallels and commonalities in the explanations given in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever felt confused or misunderstood by their partner!

The Golden Rule

We all learn “The Golden Rule” from a very young age: treat others the way you want to be treated. We hear it so often and just accept it as a guiding principle for how we should all act, but I read something recently that made me completely rethink this common phrase. I was scrolling good old Instagram when I came across a friend’s post that said “Rather than treating others the way we would want to be treated, we should think about treating others the way that they would want to be treated.” DAMN, MIND BLOWN!

This rephrasing is a subtle but very important difference. Again, one of the things that leads to so many miscommunications and misunderstandings is that we assume everyone would want to be treated the same way that we would. If we are someone who likes to talk through our problems, we assume that our friend who has a problem wants to talk about it as well. If we are someone who likes to be left alone to think, we assume our friend wants to be left alone as well. If we like to be shown love through lots of hugs and affection, we assume others want hugs and affection as well. According to “The Golden Rule”, this is how we should go about making everyone in our life happy. But of course, we all have different strategies for dealing with things and very rarely do we actually have the same exact needs as the people around us.

If we can come at our relationships with the understanding that our friends and partners have different wants and needs than our own, we can better love and support each other and provide what is actually needed rather than putting our own needs on someone else. As we get to know our friends and partners through this lens, we can become better and better at knowing what their actual needs are and recognizing that they are different from our own. We can become more open to expressing our own needs and we can forgive others for not always understanding exactly what it is we need from them. Again, it’s a simple thought, but for me it was mind-blowing! You mean “The Golden Rule” is not actually a golden rule!!?? WHAT ELSE HAVE THEY BEEN LYING ABOUT!?

To sum it all up…

We can cause ourselves and others a lot of pain if we assume that we know what they are thinking and feeling and then we turn out to be wrong. I have spent much of my life doing this and am working very hard to change those patterns. I would like to believe that most of the time, people are not doing something intentionally to hurt their friends, family, or partners. Most people are simply doing what they think is best or are trying to look out for their own needs and feelings.

If we can remember not to take things personally, not to assume that we know what is going on inside someone else’s head, we might be able to better understand each other and avoid the miscommunications that get us into so much trouble sometimes. We are all such complex individuals and sometimes we barely understand ourselves, let alone each other! The more we can accept that each person is different and that each person has good reasons for acting the way they do, the more we can create meaningful connections and feel heard and accepted by each other.