“The Golden Rule is terrible relationship advice… It’s the worst relationship advice, like, ever.” So says Jennifer Furlong at a 2017 TED Talk event held in Florence, SC. [Note: The linked video momentarily displays a Facebook post with a profane word in it from 4:30-4:37.] The Golden Rule is a scriptural mandate (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31) so there is going to be serious conflict between Mrs. Furlong and the Christian.
What makes the Golden Rule so “terrible” in her eyes? Here are a few elements that she mentions: 1) It is good for kids, but not for complex issues that adults deal with in our relationships, 2) People have different ideas about what it means, and 3) It makes us think about ourselves rather than others.
What does she suggest people use instead? The Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”
**Before reading on, take a moment to think about how you would respond to a student who shared this idea in your class. Imagine that some of your students attended the TED Talk on Evans St. and came back with these ideas. How would you deal with this worldview conflict?**
There are myriad ways to respond, but I will offer one basic observation and then five good ideas that might work well with different students:
Observation: This all boils down to a misunderstanding of the Golden Rule. It does not mean, “If I want vanilla ice-cream, then I should make you eat vanilla too.” Instead, the person practicing the Golden Rule would recognize that some people enjoy certain desserts and others do not. The Golden Rule is an attitude that seeks to notice, understand, and serve others. The Platinum Rule can be understood as an application of the Golden Rule. That would resolve any tension. The problem arises when people look to replace clear biblical teaching with a more culturally acceptable version. Now… on to some ideas for responding to students who might come into the classroom with this idea.
1) Biblical Response (Good to use with students who are believers and have a high view of God)
To say that a command in the Word of God is “terrible advice” is dangerous. This is especially true since Jesus says in Matthew 7:12 that the Golden Rule sums up all the Law and Prophets. Therefore, to cut out this teaching is to undermine the whole Bible.
Who are we to say that God made a mistake? If there is conflict between what He says and what we say, we are certainly wrong. It seems unwise to say that the One who knows everything made a mistake.
2) Logical Response (Good to use with students who are critical thinkers and may not be strong in their belief)
Is it really wise to always give people what they want? Sometimes love means not giving a person what they want. Sometimes love says, “No.” A child might be afraid of the dentist and say, “I don’t want to get my teeth cleaned!” But the loving response is not to give in, but to stand with the child, reassure her, and help her learn to handle scary situations.
Beyond that, how do we even know that individuals want to be respected and cared for? Because we want to those things too. In other words, the only leg that the Platinum Rule can stand on is actually the Golden Rule.
3) Practical Response (Good to use with students who are trying to figure out how things work in the real world)
What would it be like if everyone did unto others as they wanted done unto them? Every student wants an A in your class. Should you give it to them? Also, in some situations it might be very difficult to know how a person wants to be treated… that is, unless you use the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, contrary to what Mrs. Furlong says, actually gives us a reference for how we can treat others well.
4) Genetic Response (Good to use with students who need to know why people think the way they do)
As often happens, this TED Talk took a reasonable idea and then took it too far–it became something it was never meant to be. Dr. Tony Alessandra, who wrote the book on the Platinum Rule, is complimentary of the Golden Rule. He says he believes in that Golden Rule “110%… when it comes to values, ethics, honesty, consideration, etc.” So if he believes in the Golden Rule, why does he promote the Platinum Rule? Because when he moved from NYC to San Diego, he learned that he need to manage his employees as San Diegans rather than New Yorkers. If he treated everyone as if they were just like him (a New Yorker), he would have problems. His idea of the Platinum Rule was to: “Talk to people in ways that make it easy for them to listen. Manage and lead people in ways that internally motivate them to want want to follow.” That sounds an awful lot like the Golden Rule. He may not think of it this way, but his Platinum Rule idea is just the Golden Rule applied to differences between people. Mrs. Furlong ran with this idea so far that she said the Golden Rule is terrible relationship advice.
5) Identity Response (Good to use with students who need to better understand who they are in Christ)
God created mankind in his own image (Gen 1:26-27). Therefore, when we do unto others as we want them to do unto us, we are pressing into the reality that God made us like Him. In other words, the Golden Rule means that we should treat others with dignity and respect because God made all humans in his image.
In Luke’s account of the Golden Rule, the context is loving one’s enemies. The goal of the teaching is to help those who will listen show kindness to all. Even our enemies are made in his image. In Matthew’s account, the Rule is at the end of a passage about God’s goodness in answering prayer. He is a kind and giving Father. Therefore, we should be kind and giving to one another.
As an integrating teacher, are you ready to handle to worldview conflict that students will bring to your class? They need you to be.