Why the Golden Rule Is Still Golden


Editor’s Note: This article, written by me, appears in the June 01 issue of Simplify Magazine. This is the 29th issue I have published and this month’s theme is: Friendship.

“Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

The Golden Rule has stood the test of time as one of the most powerful principles ever invented for both moral and meaningful living. It has been shared across continents, cultures, and eras, and its message is simple: to live in harmony with the world around you, treat other people the exact way you would want them to treat you.

The Golden Rule holds benefits for our friends and the people we love. But it also holds benefits for society as a whole, ourselves as individuals, and even our enemies (which might be an unpopular thing to desire, but a life constantly chasing revenge is an awful way to live).

The principle teaches us that we are responsible for how we treat others and that we always have a choice in the matter. More than that, we should choose love, empathy, kindness, and compassion. And I can think of no better way to be remembered than living out those attributes.

The Golden Rule and Relationships

The Golden Rule is often memorized and often cited, but it is more than a philosophical idea to be written down in autobiographies and self-help books. It is a practical approach to living that can help us filter good choices from bad ones. And we can apply this filter to the smallest actions (like the words we say) to the most significant of decisions (reconciling with a family member).

In my country (USA), society seems more divided than at any other time in my life. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. The prevalence of social media seems to indicate we are more connected than ever, but feelings of loneliness and isolation are on the rise. With this backdrop, the Golden Rule offers a path to friendships and healthy relationships that makes it feel more golden than ever.

The Golden Rule is important because it helps us overcome our natural inclination toward selfishness. It challenges us to think beyond our own needs and desires and consider the well-being of others.

In friendships, this shift in mindset can make a significant difference. When we prioritize the needs of our friends and treat them the way we would like to be treated, we create an environment of mutual respect.

In society, this same shift would probably result in more trust, more understanding, and greater unity. Nobody wants to be called names online and have strangers jump to unfounded assumptions about their motives. We would be wise to think about and interact with others the way we’d want them to think about and interact with us.

There are some who might argue that living by the Golden Rule would result in getting bullied, pushed around, and taken advantage of. But I disagree. When we respond to unkindness with kindness, we begin to break the cycle of retaliation. And peacemakers tend to attract others who support them and stand up for them. Kind people don’t always win in this world, I agree. But neither do unkind people. I’d rather roll the dice with kindness.

Now, as we are all aware, it’s one thing to acknowledge the wisdom and timelessness of the Golden Rule, but living by it is a completely different type of challenge.

In this article I want to offer practical ways that we can begin to embody this approach in our relationships and friendships—for ourselves, our friends, and society. But before I do, it might be helpful to acknowledge the forces that work against us.

Enemies of Practicing the Golden Rule

Know thy enemy,” Sun Tzu famously said. By recognizing the challenges that keep us from following the Golden Rule, and the reality that these forces are both internal and external, we are better poised to overcome them.

So I think it would be helpful to explore why it can be so difficult to treat others the way we want to be treated. Here are a few of the enemies stacked against us:

Inner Conflicts

We all have natural tendencies in our heart and soul, and many of these pull us away from our desired outcomes. For example, the pull inside us toward selfishness, jealousy, and revenge can sometimes overshadow our desire to act kindly. The very human urge to put ourselves first and protect our own interests makes it hard to follow the rule as often as we’d like.

Misconceptions About Success

Society often promotes a worldview where success is measured by material wealth, status, or power. This messaging can lead us to believe that achieving these goals requires us to prioritize ourselves over others. The assumption that getting ahead means outdoing or outmaneuvering others makes it difficult to practice selflessness

Immediate Reactions vs. Long-Term Benefits

When we’re hurt or angered, our immediate response often overshadows our ability to consider the long-term benefits of peace. In the heat of the moment, it’s easier to react impulsively than to reflect on the impact of our actions.

When we have time to think about how we intend to respond in an upcoming circumstance or conversation, following the Golden Rule becomes easier. But when a difficult circumstance seems to come out of nowhere, it takes great patience, wisdom, and intentionality to follow the Golden Rule.

The Harshness of the World

Life can be harsh and even cruel. Sometimes this cruelty comes from other people; sometimes it arises from circumstances. But either way, the harsher we are dealt with, the easier it becomes to deal harshly with others.

Cultural Messaging

The pervasive cultural message to “look out for number one” (or “you do you”) encourages us to prioritize our own needs and preferences above all else. And while, in the long run, following the Golden Rule is the best way to prioritize our needs, it doesn’t always feel that way.

All of that to say, living by the Golden Rule isn’t easy. I don’t suppose it ever has been. But it is still worth pursuing. Even if the internal and cultural forces are stacked against us, treating others the way we want to be treated is worth the effort because of all the benefits to us and others.

But how? What are some practical ways we can accomplish this in our relationships?

Applying the Golden Rule in Friendships

My goal with the following list isn’t to argue that living out the Golden Rule in our relationships is easy to do—I’ve already said it isn’t.

My goal is to offer both old and new ideas that help display the number of opportunities we do have each day to live it out. And hopefully improve all of our relationships because of it.

1. Practice empathy.

Make it a habit to understand your friends’ perspectives and emotions. Empathy is the foundation of meaningful friendships, so ask more questions.

A friend recently told me that when he is talking to a friend and disagrees with something they say, rather than arguing for his position, he’s learned to simply respond with the phrase: “Tell me more.” Far better than getting into an argument over who is right, it usually results in more understanding.

2. Listen actively.

Choosing to genuinely listen is a simple, but powerful way to honor the Golden Rule. Set aside distractions and give your friends your full attention. This is what we want when we have something we want to share with others. When we listen actively, we validate our friends’ experiences, make them feel seen and heard, and treat them exactly the way we want to be treated.

3. Be generous with encouragement.

Everyone faces challenges. Offer words of encouragement, compliments, and support to uplift your friends. Almost all of us can point to specific times in life when an encouraging word was exactly what we needed to hear on a given day. So be quick to give it. Compliments cost us nothing to give.

4. Communicate openly and honestly.

In friendships, honesty and transparency are simple treasures. Communication builds trust and deepens bonds. When we communicate openly, we create an environment where honesty is valued and misunderstandings are minimized.

Communicating openly and honestly doesn’t mean we have to share everything we are thinking, but it is a trait we want to be true of the people in our life, and so it should be true of us as well.

5. Offer help before it’s asked for.

Be attentive to the needs of your friends. Sometimes a small gesture like offering to help with a task can have a significant impact.

6. Show kindness in simple ways.

Sometimes the smallest act of kindness can brighten a friend’s day. A thoughtful text, a handwritten note, or a surprise delivery of their favorite drink from Starbucks can make a lasting impression. We love to receive acts of kindness—and we should love to give them.

7. Forgive and seek forgiveness.

No person and no relationship is perfect. When misunderstandings or conflicts arise, be quick to forgive and seek forgiveness. Holding on to grudges benefits no one.

8. Celebrate their successes.

It is easy to be genuinely happy for your friends’ achievements and to celebrate with them. But what about others? When we see the world as a grand competition between us and others, celebrating people’s success can be difficult—jealousy and envy are easier. But when we see the world less through the eyes of competition, and more through the eyes of cooperation and being on the same team, it becomes easier to compete less and celebrate more.

9. Prioritize quality time.

Given the busy lives we tend to live, it’s easy to neglect friendships. So make an effort to spend quality time with your friends. Sometimes this means reaching out to invite them along with something you’re already doing; sometimes this means leaving margin in your schedule specifically for them. But one thing is for sure: prioritizing quality time shows your friends that you value them and the relationship.

There are opportunities all around us to live out the Golden Rule. We can apply it at home, at work, with our friends, and even in our next interaction with the barista at the coffee shop.

Treating others just the way you want to be treated—keep this idea at the forefront of your mind and you’ll be amazed by how often it changes the way you act. And you will be amazed at how well it improves your relationships.


This week, I released Issue #029 of Simplify Magazine. The theme of this issue is Friendship. Simplify Magazine is one of the most important things I do and you can become a lifetime subscriber for just $20 USD (nothing more to pay ever).

Source link

Share this article

Recent posts

Popular categories


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent comments

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons