It’s bad advice to say, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Well, perhaps it’s not terrible advice, but I think we can do better by adopting the following phrase as a guide for our actions: Treat others the way they want to be treated. It’s called the Platinum Rule.
It may be difficult at first to see how the Platinum Rule differs from the Golden Rule but it all comes down to where we begin when we think about whose needs are being considered. Imagine the following scenario: Your encyclopedia-loving mother has the decent wish to buy you a gift. When the time comes for you to unwrap your present you are shocked to behold a brand new, recently-released box set of encyclopedias. Unless you share your mother’s passion for reference books, her “thoughtful” gesture may actually leave you feeling disappointed or even a little hurt. Of course, the intent behind the gift was good and pure, but there was a disconnect somewhere between the thought and the action. Why? Because she bought you a gift that she would have liked to receive rather than gifting you something that you would have actually wanted or needed. This is why thoughtful gift ideas are so special. The gift-giver demonstrates their sensitivity to and awareness of your preferences, your likes and dislikes,your wants and needs, and uses that understanding to choose a meaningful gift that is specifically for you.
There are risks associated with carelessly exercising the Platinum Rule because it can easily lead to a type of paternalism, a way of treating others how one assumes they would want to be treated or should be treated. Because of this, one may prefer to just stick with the Golden Rule since, in the end, it generally works. “Do your best to give thoughtful gifts because you would want to receive thoughtful gifts.” “Treat others with fairness and respect because you would want to be treated in such a way.” But the Platinum Rule’s risk of paternalism and the shortcomings of the Golden Rule both stem from the same problem. They skip the crucial step of tending to the other which actually enables one to realize these “rules” well.
The lesson to appreciate then is that, first and foremost, we should get really good at paying attention to the other, putting in the effort to understand them on their terms, and stepping-outside of ourselves so that we can really watch and listen to them. In other words, to truly show someone love, care, and respect you can’t use yourself as the reference point to figure out how to go about doing those things. You have to start by genuinely caring about their needs and treating them how they want and need to be treated.
(This is a condensed version of a previous post I wrote on the Golden Rule. You can read the longer, slightly cheesier version of it here.)