The Golden Rule is Stupid

Date: 2024-02-15

I always had a reputation for being overly kind. Oftentimes, people mistook my kindness as niavety, stupidity, or childishness, often leading to infantilization. But, you see, I grew up being told, "Treat others as you wish to be treated," and I took it to heart. I know what it's like to be treated like shit, and I don't want anybody else to ever experience that.

And so, for example, I am extremely encouraging. When people show me their art, I take moments to breath it in, identify what I like, and enthusiastically encourage them, because that's how I want people to approach my art. No matter how miserable I feel in a day, I set it aside and act kindly to the people around me, because no one deserves to have my misery taken out on them. And I wish others were able to put aside their greivances to treat me with kindness. I am kind to strangers and service workers, primarily because it's the right thing to do, but there is a hidden contract– a hidden request: "If I treat you kindly, will you treat me kindly back?" And then when the person responds unfavorably or rude, I ask myself, "What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this?" I treat older adults and authorities with basic respect, because everyone deserves basic respect, and I am often met with disrespect, where I'm not even seen as a whole human.

I think I take the phrase too literally. It's not hard to conflate, "Treat others as you would like to be treated," with, "and they will treat you that way in return." I can't be the only person who misinterpreted the golden rule. It might be related to my neurodivergence; I'm not sure though.

To follow the golden rule to such an extreme is self destruction. I invite disappointment when people don't reciprocate the level of effort I put in. I want people to love the way I love, but everyone loves differently. I think it taps into what loving unconditionally means. I would rather act the way I do out of principle and my values, rather than for a desired response. I want to love fully, and not be hurt when someone responds unfavorably– to love fully anyway. The best course of action is to remind myself that other peoples' behavior is a reflection of them, and not me. It's really tough, though, because each negative interaction is a thorn, a percieved rejection, and as much as I'd like to just shake it off, it tends to stick to me like nothing else. Very often, negative interactions rip open an old wound that says, "What's wrong with me? It seems like no matter what, I can't say or do the correct thing. I'm forever the strange outsider." I don't know how to rectify that yet. I think how I approach the golden rule is a form of masking. It says, "If I act this way, then you'll act this way. You'll accept me if I act like this." It's a plea for control in a chaotic world. Having outlined my thoughts, I remark to myself, "Oh, it's just another form of people-pleasing, isn't it?"

More and more, I'm finding that no phrase is absolute. I think, maybe, the golden rule is for people who don't prioritize kindness as a value. Someone may warn, "You never know who you're talking to. That stranger you were rude to on the bus could be your future job interviewer." I find such logic to be so self-serving. Why not be kind for the sake of being kind? Also, I fully understand that the golden rule exists as a reminder to perform basic respect but, in that case, I never needed that advice. By instinct I'm overly friendly, and instead need a reminder not to be such a pushover.

There exists a balance between a persecutory type of giving and completely disregarding others. I don't think I'll stop treating others as I would like to be treated, because it's my way of loving. I just have to go in with the correct, healthy expectation that my behavior does not promise a certain response back. I think, too, I need to get in the habit of vocalizing my needs in a relationship. Just hoping someone will treat me a certain way because I modeled that behavior is so silly, and it inevitably leads to hurt.