It occurred to me recently that the Golden Rule, the one from the bible, is insufficient. The way it’s commonly phrased is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If with good intentions, you follow this maxim to the letter, you can still unintentionally offend people surprisingly often. For example, if I am misspelling a word, not just making a typo, then I want someone to let me know so that I can start spelling it correctly. I know from personal experience that not everyone appreciates this type of correction. Yet if I follow the Golden Rule to the letter then I should correct other people’s misspellings.
It seems that to truly treat people the way you would want to be treated it is necessary to treat people the way they would want to be treated. That’s why when one goes to a foreign country it is considered polite to respect their customs even if you don’t understand them or care if people apply those customs to you. The rule only works if you remember that what you would like others “to do unto you” is to treat you in the way you most consider fair and polite.
I think this misunderstanding of how to correctly apply this rule is frequently responsible for people trying to force their opinions on others. Religious people, believing that they themselves would want to be converted if they weren’t already, feel that trying to convert people, who have no desire to convert, is still the right thing to do. People who are atheists, feeling that if they were acting irrationally they would want someone to point this out, fall into the same trap.
Of course, treating people the way they want to be treated is much harder sometimes, especially when you don’t know how they want to be treated. Communication and empathy for those different than yourself become much more important. There will also be instances where you can’t treat someone the way they want to be treated. If someone asks you to kill them, you still shouldn’t and some people have unreasonable expectations about how they deserve to be treated. You shouldn’t have to hurt yourself to treat other people well. The Golden Rule even in simplest form, when followed, prevents us from killing and hurting each other but to treat people truly well, you might need to remind yourself to ask what they would want.