The golden rule is a seemingly straightforward and simple rule, and goes like this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s simplicity is that it encourages and assumes the validity of a view of justice that is reciprocal in nature, and posits that other people are the same kind of beings as we are who generally enjoy to be treated with the respect and consideration that we do. Despite the fact that behaviors and cultural artifacts may vary widely between people, it is generally a safe assumption to work with that all people desire to be loved and respected and accepted for who they are. Most of us react poorly when other people hold us in contempt or seek to exclude us from polite company or places associate with honor and dignity or seek to silence and disregard us. Yet despite the fact that respect, honor, and acceptance are nearly universally demanded and expected as an entitlement for all people for themselves, it is by no means automatic that we give these things to others.
As we might expect, then, there are a wide variety of alternatives that exist to the golden rule. The next most noble one is called the silver rule, which states, “Do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you.” If people followed the silver rule instead of the golden rule, they would at least avoid treating others with contempt and disrespect that they would not accept as treatment from others, and a great many of the evils of life in this present age may be avoided. Indeed, a simultaneous obedience of both the golden and silver rules itself is what marks someone as a just person. By obedience to both the golden and silver rules, one performs one’s positive obligations to respect and care for others while also refraining from behaviors that hurt and abuse others. By caring for others as we ought and simultaneously refraining from harming others, we demonstrate our commitment to justice, which is treating people as they ought to be treated and not inflicting upon others what we would not accept for ourselves.
The problem occurs when we seek to find alternatives to these two rules which fail to meet the standards of reciprocal justice. One of the unjust alternatives is to treat others as we have been treated. This standard fails for a variety of reasons–one of them is that we simply are not good judges of how we have been treated by others. For a variety of reasons, we tend to be far more sensitive to how we feel slighted and disrespected by others than we are sensitive to the restraint and mercy that others show towards us. We tend to think that we deserve any good treatment that we receive from others–and therefore do not show gratitude for it, while also thinking that we do not deserve any negative treatment from others, which leads us to view any negative treatment as a just cause for tit for tat vengeance, while using it also as an excuse for being able to avoid treating others positively at all due to the past wrongs that we feel have been inflicted upon us. As this sort of rule, which we may call the pyrite rule, because it is fool’s gold and only practiced by fools, encourages us to be unjust and to fail to treat others with reciprocity, it naturally tends to exacerbate the conflicts that we have in the world as all parties end up feeling unjustly treated and primed to respond viciously in kind to others.
It is little wonder that in our own we speak often of a desire for justice but fail to practice the fundamentals of justice in treating others in a reciprocal fashion. If it were easy to be just, we would not have the pervasive and systematic injustices that we have, in that there are groups in society who lash out by calling others all kinds of disgusting names and putting labels on others while also denying that anyone can give them a label that they do not provide for themselves. We would not see people trying to define terms in such a way that they can avoid giving others the respect and honor that they feel entitled to under the belief that whole classes of people can be identified as being beneath any sort of dignity or honor while simultaneously being considered as privileged and therefore worthy of scorn. All too often, those who speak the most often of justice have the least understanding of what justice entails, or have the least awareness that they are far more unjust than those they hate and hold in contempt. Yet none of this is an excuse for those who suffer from such arrogant evildoers to be unjust in turn. What makes us moral beings is not the justice we receive from others, but rather the justice that we provide to others. Often that justice awaits eternal judgment, for it is seldom to be found here and now.