Sunday, 6 October 2013

Golden Rule

As you know, I'm a freak, I tend to like things other people don't and I tend to dislike things that are widely popular. Of course, I'm not the only freak, but I can be a bit more in your face about it. I tend not to go along with the crowd for appearances sake.

The result is that not only do I take a very strong stance about my own preferences, but I'm extremely passionate about others being allowed theirs.

Obviously this creates a few issues, and not just a few arguments.

For example, I may disagree vehemently with your political views, but I will help you in any way I can retain the right to express them. It sounds contradictory, but it's based on the reversed Golden Rule.

Reversed? Yes, it must be reversed. The Golden Rule doesn't work, and it doesn't work precisely because of different tastes and views. The reversed Golden Rule, is much better.

The Golden Rule says you should treat others the way you wish to be treated, but it's not always appropriate, because they may want something quite different.

Let's use a very petty example. In the United States, especially in the south or among older people, there is a cultural imperative to call people Sir or Ma'am. It is considered not only polite, but absolutely fundamental in some business situations.

Being a foreigner I have a very different feeling about it. I find it overly formal, annoying, and sometimes even condescending.

But quite often I have to deal with US customer service depatments, who are REQUIRED to do this. They do it because they are told this is what the customer wants. No, I don't. I want them to stop it. Once, I can deal with. Maybe a couple of times in a call, but every other sentence? I try so hard to ignore it but I start to get really annoyed and want to scream SHUT UP! Stop calling me "Ma'am" and talk to me like a real person.

They are following a sort of extended Golden Rule, and it's not working.

They are not doing anything "wrong". They are, in their minds, being correct, offering a good service, etc etc. But in trying to please their own attitudes, they are annoying mine. Really, if you want to offer the finest service, you make the effort to express yourself in the manner of the person you are talking to. But that's rather complex, and probably asking too much of people earning minimum wage, being recorded for quality, and reading off a script.

No, you see the Golden Rule doesn't work, not even at that level, because it means projecting your own needs, desires, and sensibilities onto others. For example if you enjoy unexpected visitors, you might have the urge to drop in on people who are less than happy about it, or if you like loud music....yes. Those people who blare from their cars are only sharing, you know.

The reverse Golden Rule says "don't do things to people you wouldn't want done to you". This is much easier, because it's easier to forgive neglect. Think about it.

I have dogs. If I follow the Golden Rule I would assume everyone else enjoys the company of dogs, and wants to meet my dogs. Many dog owners do indeed assume this. They love meeting other dogs, and are happy to be licked and possibly even jumped up at. They welcome it. So, they allow their dogs to lick and jump up at people.

Actually, although I enjoy the company of dogs I HATE being licked and jumped up on. So my dogs get into big trouble if they do that to people. I assume others won't like it, and do my best to prevent it. Visitors often say they don't mind. That's not the point. They are not MISSING OUT by my controlling my dogs. It's not harmful. And they can always sit on the floor and be climbed all over if they want to.

But it can get really difficult.

How about open windows for example? I like fresh air, but I don't like being cold. I have been half frozen to death sometimes visiting people who just assume everyone likes a cold blast as much as they do. They are comfortable like that, so they assume everyone else is.

It's their home and they have a right to be comfortable in it. I have the option of leaving (and I do!) But to be a good host, if that is your intention of course, what's the right thing to do? Well, strictly speaking the good host would ensure that his guest is comfortable and try to find a compromise.

And if it's in your own family, then what?

A curious thing happens with my husband, and in discussing this with other women, I've discovered a pattern in the conversation which gives us clues into the much bigger issue. The language explains what's going on in his head. I think, in fact, my husband's quirks explain the entire Golden Rule fail thing. Try to follow me here.

I will say:

"I'm cold."

He will say:

"It's not cold."

See what happened there? I offered my own experience, he offered an opinion on the situation. We might go back and forth a bit with this, until the truth comes out, which is actually that HE isn't cold. He may be perfectly comfortable, or in fact, too warm.

Now, as I said, when I've mentioned this quirk to others I keep hearing "OHMIGOD! My husband does that too!"

I'm sure it's not just husbands. And I'm sure there are plenty who don't. But why would it be a feature of men, rather than women? As you know, I don't buy this whole Mars and Venus thing, but if there's a real pattern occurring, what has led to it?

I could go all deeply cultural anthropological, I guess and blame the patriarchy. You know, how men have been taught for so long that they are always right, that they oppose the feelings of others by expressing their own feelings as facts.

I don't know if there's anything in that or not, and I think it's far more likely that MOST people make the same mistake, unless their awareness causes them to use more accurate language.

Until we are able to ALWAYS discern our feelings from facts (and perhaps get past some of the feelings, I'll go into that on Blog #2 today), we need some sort of rule of thumb in our relationships with others. Imposing our preferences on others is not the wonderful thing the Golden Rule makes it out to be.

Opting instead for the reverse Golden Rule, while not the ideal solution (that would be finding out what others need, and compromising as necessary), is a better place to start. It is usually better to do nothing, than to do the wrong thing.

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