“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This maxim,  known as the Golden Rule, is at the centre of many religious teachings, and (I presume) is considered by most as a foundation of any good moral code. And why wouldn’t it be? It sounds completely fair and reasonable.  However, there are surprisingly many circumstances where you really should not follow it.

It all boils down to the fact that people are different. In the rest of this post, I will go through examples I have thought of to demonstrate how the Golden Rule is flawed.

1. Probably the clearest example is that of a masochist. By definition he (or she) enjoys pain, so he would want others to inflict pain on him. By the Golden Rule, the only logical conclusion is that he should inflict pain on others.

2. Say Person A likes Person B, but not vice versa. Then A will want B to, for example, flirt with them, and so by the Golden Rule, A should flirt with Person B. (Flirting is probably not such a big deal, but the same argument applies for more intimate, and hence more inappropriate, activities).

3. If A wants people to be honest and straightforward about his shortcomings, then the Golden Rule would conclude that he should be honest and straightforward to others about their weaknesses.

4. If A wants to be fed pizza, then he should feed others pizza.
In all these situations, it seems obvious what the `right’ thing to do is, namely, what the other person wants (not inflicting pain, not flirting, being tactful, and feeding them what they like to eat). From these examples, it seems that a better motto is: “Do unto others as they would want you to do unto them.”

Of course, this will also have its flaws, e.g. what the other person wants might not actually be best for them. However, it appears that in all the situations where the Golden Rule leads to the ‘correct’ thing to do, this  new motto will also produce the ‘correct’ outcome.

Notes: 1. What I find interesting about this post is the fact I have not actually said anything particularly profound. Explicitly, it is surprising that the Golden Rule, which is easily seen to be flawed, is of such a high status.

2. For those who like ‘self-referential paradoxes’: What do you do if somebody wants you to do the opposite of what he wants?