Friday 18 January 2013

The Golden Rule is Backwards

Everyone knows the famous golden rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.  That one is fairly straightforward.

But the other golden rule?  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That one is backwards.

It should be: do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Treating people the way you would like to be treated is a nice idea but it ends up being a little narcissistic at the end of the day.  Not everyone wants to be treated like me.  Or you.  Or any other random person you might grab.

When I'm upset, I want ice cream, chocolate and something exploding on TV.  Other people might prefer beer and loud music.  Or a warm blanket and friends sympathizing.  Or duck juggling.  (I don't judge.)

My husband prefers quiet when he's upset.  He doesn't want to distract himself with something.  He wants to have the mental space to sort through what's going on without any social pressure.  If I try to force feed him ice cream and make him watch all four Die Hard movies, it won't work for him.  If he leaves me in a dark room to stew, it won't work for him again because I'll come out twice as irritated as I went in.

Figuring out what other people want is a matter of paying attention and using imagination.  In other words, empathy.  And empathy is a great thing.  It's actual mind reading (although significantly less accurate than the TV version). 

I try to do this a lot with my kids.  Alex does not like a lot of fuss and interaction.  Social interaction is work for him.  But at the same time, he wants to know he's loved just like any other child.  We've worked out a strategy of drive-by cuddlings.  He'll be walking by or I'll go up to him and give him a mess of kisses or hugs.  And then I let him walk away.  If he wants more, he'll come back or linger.  But the smile on his face tells me he's gotten the message I wanted him to have.

Because in the end, I don't think it matters what message I intended to send.  It's the one he gets which is important.

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