David Olney
21 November, 2022

As children, almost all of us learn a version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It makes sense as a heuristic for decent behaviour, and it pops up in conversation every few months. When I listened to Joe Polish’s new book, “What’s in It for Them?”, I became excited and inspired when he described his own take on the Golden Rule.

If you are interested in reading my earlier blog post about Polish’s book, in which I consider why we should aim to be useful, grateful, and valuable, please click on the following link.

davidolney.com.au/why-should-we-aim-to-be-useful-grateful-and-valuab le/

Polish argues that instead of treating people how we would like to be treated, we should treat people how they would like to be treated. Despite all of my earlier training to the contrary, I recognised that this is how I interview people for podcasts.

When I was studying to be a Political Philosopher, I was steeped in theories concerned with how societies should work, which all rely on the abstract ideal that everyone is essentially the same, and should be treated in a similar way. In terms of equity, meritocratic opportunity, and how democracy can work, this is more or less true, but it isn’t sufficient for when individuals are trying to connect, to build meaningful relationships with each other.

When we interact with each other, we want to be recognised and responded to as the person we strive to be, rather than as an abstract citizen of a theoretical society. We want to be seen, heard, understood, and appreciated as a person who has experienced a particular version of life, who chooses to relate with the world in our own unique way.

When you perceive other people as an abstract ideal, every interaction becomes more unreal. For example, speaking with a room full of Political Philosophers about how to improve society was a profoundly odd and dehumanising experience.

When I started studying (and then teaching) Strategic Culture, it confirmed my growing conviction that everything important is influenced by how people behave, and why they want to behave in a particular way. This focus on people’s behaviour led me to podcasting, studying Strategic Communication, and on to my career in marketing.

Whenever you can, try and treat people how they would like to be treated, and try to let them know how you would like to be treated, because understanding and interacting with each other as ourselves increases the chances that we will treat each other well and build meaningful and rewarding relationships.

The Golden Rule is simple to learn, and isn’t a bad place to start, but it doesn’t encourage us to make the effort to understand and treat people in a way that helps them to feel heard and valued. Polish’s suggestion, to treat people how they would like to be treated, requires some effort and courage, both of which are likely to make a good impression. As long as treating people how they would like to be treated doesn’t force you to cross an ethical line, or put you in danger, try to behave in a way that lets people know that you hear and value them as they are, and as they would like to be appreciated.

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