Bronze, Silver and Golden Rules (pt. 1)

The “Golden Rule” is something of a universal in all religions and philosophies. It comes in a variety of presentations. The way the Golden Rule was presented to me was: "Treat others the way you would have them treat you." Not a bad rule indeed; however many times when I follow it I get into trouble.

I am a person who really appreciates having a fierce conversation with someone because I think that the conflict that comes from such conversation is creative and useful. Others are not a fan of such intense conversation or conflict. So when I engage in a conversation with someone and follow the golden rule that I was taught, I can get into trouble. While I want to be treated in conversation as a “sparring partner”, many others in my life do not desire this. While I am treating them the way I wish to be treated, they think that I am being a jerk.

There are countless examples where I am treating someone the way I wish to be treated only to discover that the other person perceives me as less than compassionate.

This is where I would say that the golden rule taught to me may be more of a silver rule. Not a bad rule, but it clearly has shortcomings – I might even submit there is a “bronze rule”: Do not treat others the way you would not have them treat you.

This “bronze rule” is the “silver rule” in the negative. So sticking with the example, I do not desire to be disrespected in conversation. So at the very least I need to not disrespect the other person. This “bronze rule” is helpful to guide us to do “no harm” but, like all other probations, it does not guide us to “do good”. Thus the “silver rule” (Treat others the way you would have them treat you) is helpful to guide us to action.

However, both the “bronze” and “silver” rules are egocentric. That is to say, it puts my needs above your needs. I want conflictual conversation. I do not want to be disrespected. These are not “bad”, but they put the self at the center of the action.

The next post will attempt to share an alternate presentation of the Golden Rule that steps away from egocentrism and into a more compassionate posture of living.