Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been. When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day. What follows is one piece of that advice. I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
—Christianity: Luke 6:31
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
—Buddhism: Udana-Varga 5:18
Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
—Confucianism: Analects 15:23
None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
—Islam: Number 13 of Imam,
"Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."
...Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
—Judaism: Leviticus 19:18
Every major world religion contains a version of what we call the Golden Rule. Just take a glance at the quotes above, and you’ll get an idea of how universal this concept is. There’s a reason for this: it works.
Let’s be honest: we do everything—and I mean everything—to serve our own self-interest. That’s not a bad thing; it’s the way we are wired, the way nature intended it. And it’s what makes the Golden Rule so perfect.
You know exactly how you would like to be treated. You know how it feels to be treated with respect. You know the kind of service you want in a restaurant, the loyalty you want from your friends, the kind of love you want from your family. In every aspect of life, you have a picture of how you’d like to have others “do unto you.”
Now, just reverse the roles. Put yourself in that other person's place. It’s a strikingly simple concept—even a schoolchild can understand it—but it’s a decidedly grown-up thing to actually pull off. It doesn’t work for kids because they are virtually incapable of placing another person’s needs above their own. Adults, on the other hand, have the maturity to make this noble leap—although some never do.
Here’s where your own self-interest comes in. Just because you know how you’d like to be treated and are capable of putting yourself in another person’s moccasins, that doesn’t mean that you automatically treat others in the way you’d like to be treated. You might have to give up a hard-earned advantage, take partial blame for something you feel is not your fault, or be nice to a person you don’t really like. In order for you to live the Golden Rule all the time, it would have to be clearly in your best interest to do so.
It is. By treating your fellow humans as you wish to be treated, you increase your own chances of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, whether it be a fifty-year marriage to your soul mate or a thirty-minute encounter with a waitress at a lunch counter.
So, take that leap. Give up an advantage now and then. Accept the blame. Be nice to that person you can’t stand. The rewards will come back to you as surely as a boomerang does. Believe it, and it will happen.