Platinum is better than Gold

Metal Rules

Above you can see three heuristics used to explore the principle of reciprocity in human relationships. In the Christian Bible, Matthew (7:12) and Luke (6:31) attribute “The Golden Rule” to Jesus — but like many other gospel themes and teachings, the Golden Rule is much older than Jesus. See this wiki article to see how it existed in many cultures prior to Jesus’s supposed teaching. Who knows why John and Mark left out this apparently central teaching of Jesus?  But their version of good reciprocity has lots of problems.

Of the three versions you see above, The Golden Rule has huge defects and can be used perversely.  For instance, let’s say a Christian thinks:

“Oh, how I love my Lord Jesus!  I am so thankful for my salvation.  I hope the Devil never deceives me to stop believing and thus I will end up suffering forever in hell.  If I were deceived though, I would hope people would torture me until I saw the errors of my way.  For suffering in this life is nothing compared to eternal suffering in Hell.”

Well, you can see that using Jesus’ Golden Rule, the Christian could justify torturing nonbelievers — which has been done countless of times in the history of Christianity, right up until the 1800s, I think.  Mind you, not all Christianities think this way, but this is a common perversion of this supposedly valuable heuristic.

Silver_RuleConfucius (circa 500 BCE), and many others, stated a much more benign rule:  “The Silver Rule”.  But the Silver Rule also has its short-comings: it does not encourage actively doing good whereas the Golden Rule does.

So, to avoid the obvious pitfalls of both the Golden Rule, and the keep-to-myself Silver Rule, consider the later improved secular reciprocity rule: The Platinum Rule:

“Do unto others as they’d want done unto them.”

The Platinum Rule has its pitfalls too. What if they don’t want YOU doing these thing to them.  Heck, all heuristics have their pitfalls.  So, as I discussed the benefits of layering metaphors here, so layering heuristics can be valuable.  So for me, I try to avoid the tempting and dangerous Golden Rule by instead holding both the Silver Rule and the Platinum Rule simultaneously in my mind when pondering my relationships with others.  I avoid the Golden Rule.

Question to readers: What is your favorite reciprocity heuristic?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

26 responses to “Platinum is better than Gold

  1. associatedluke

    I’m still a golden rule dude but I like what you offer up for the platinum idea. I go gold because if I don’t know someone else, then I should treat them as I would like to be treated until we get to a platinum level in the relationship.

  2. Scote

    I don’t know if it counts as a “reciprocity rule” but the philosophical maxim from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure seems pretty succinct, “Be excellent to each other.”

  3. @ Luke,
    That is a good, balance for “Golden”. But let me think out loud here for a second:
    Unknown Person:
    (1) No Coercion –> (2) Silver –> then (3) Gold
    Known Person with known desires:
    (1) No Violence/Coercion –> (2) Platinum –> (3) Silver –> (4) Gold

    How does that sound?

  4. associatedluke

    Why not start with no violence/no coercion for both? Other than that, sounds okay. Silver isn’t really in my thinking though.

  5. @ Scote,
    Right — it is a good maxim to be sure. Susceptible to lots of contrary interpretations, but it certainly can be inspiring. Thanx.

  6. @ Luke,
    Yeah, it was suppose to. I thought of putting in violence when I did the second one, just forgot to go back and edit it.
    So, for a known person, can you see how “The Golden Rule” is way down on the list?

  7. Scote

    Why does the rule have to be posed in the archaic “do unto others” format? Isn’t the “Platinum Rule” just “treat people the way they want to be treated”?

  8. Very true, Scote. But since we are comparing the rules to each other, I thought it useful to put them in similar format so that syntax is not what people recognize as the difference. Peoples’ brains are funny, you know! 😉

  9. chialphagirl

    The problem with the platinum rule is that is supposes that I know how the other person wants to be treated. Generally we are more gracious and understanding of ourselves than we are of the flaws of others. So maybe it should be do unto others and you would do unto yourself.

  10. @Chialphagirl,
    Concerning the Platinum rule, I agreed. That is what Luke pointed out too. I will probably go back and at this to the post.

    As for your last sentence, I did not understand your point – sorry.

  11. Slightly off topic, but related.

    I have often wondered how the Golden Rule is supposed to work out for masochists.

  12. Not “off topic” at all, Neil, that is exactly the point — the undeniable weaknesses of the Golden Rule. But I guess Jesus said it, so Christians gotta defend it! Thanx

  13. chialphagirl

    My point is that while someone mights say that he would want someone else to hurt him for his lack of faith he would likely never choose to hurt himself but would find a reason for mercy. We should treat others with the same leniency we treat ourselves.

  14. @chialphagirl:
    I agree from much experience that what a person says he/she would want in a hypothetical situation, when they get there, their opinion often changes. Not sure what this says about the three metal rules, though. If that is what you meant.

  15. To readers
    James McGrath posted my graphic on his blog where there were then a few interesting comments that I thought I put here since James did not comment here:

    James McGrath quotes commentors at another blog to give his own opinion (sort of as the gospel writers use Jesus as a sock puppet):

    the Golden Rule, unless understood in an unnecessarily literal fashion, is really about empathy – not doing to someone else what you want regardless of what their own needs and wants are, but placing yourself in their situation and doing what you perceive you would hope for in that circumstance.
    Without empathy, the Platinum Rule seems no more workable than the Golden Rule, and with empathy, the two are pretty much the same thing.

    Bernard Muller replied to McGrath saying,
    The ones who practice that golden rule can get highly frustrated when the others do not reciprocate. That might even lead to anger and violence. Acts of kindness should be disinterested and nothing should be expected in return.

    That golden rule (Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31) seems to be an extrapolation of Pharisee Hillel “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man” (the equivalent of the silver rule) which makes a lot of good sense to me.

    This golden rule is deeply flawed, I agree. It is rather socially problematic in the real world. Actually, different cultures in antiquity have many versions of the silver rule but very few of the golden rule.

    It seems that golden rule was put in the mouth of Jesus by the Q people in order to have him outdo the Pharisees.

    Cordially, Bernard

  16. Sabio –

    How interesting, I nphad never heard of the other two rules. Now, after some thought I think the Golden Rule (wherever it originates), is still my favorite. If we keep it simple, it will be obvious. Do you want others to tailgate you? I don’t. Do you want others to be generally considerate? I do.

    In more complex matters, there seems to be a suggestion that we’d have to guess. In most cases, communication with the “others” solves this. Just ask people what they need or want from us, if it’s unclear.

  17. amelie,
    you are bringing up the “What if we don’t know the folks” question.
    I think lots of folks don’t mind being tailgated or stood close to in line so the do it to others.

    Many Christians hope that if they ever gave up the faith that their friends and others would keep trying to witness to them and convert them. So they do the same to others.

    Lots of pit falls.

    Point — the heuristic, though helpful at times, can be (as is) harmful.
    Thus, holding the others simultaneously in mind — which is the whole point of the series — is an improvement.

  18. Hi Sabio – Sorry I’d I was unclear. I did not intend to bring up the “what if we don’t know the folks” argument. Rather, I was saying it might be used as an argument against the Goldn Rule.

    In that case, I disagree. I don’t think you have to know people to get the most out of the Golden Rule. I think that Rule actually encourages people to think independently. I enjoy “the Heuristic”, I guess. 😉

    As for the interpretation of the Golden Rule, I think it has been debated plenty of times. Your interpretation is different than mine.

    Sure some people may think being tailgates is a big deal. But are they thinking with their whole brain? If they were they would also consider whether others would “mind” being crashed into. If that don’t consider that, they first need a lesson in common sense and driving too.

    Being stood too close to in line. Well, in the time of (whomever came up with the Golden Rule) I’m sure that was the least of their worries. But if we want a modern version of it, I think a Buddhist approaches best; we needn’t be perfect; just more thoughtful.

    “As you would have them do unto you” also strikes me as less nosy and invasive than “as they want done unto them” rough translation. Yes, we should communicate with others but life is better if we use simple common sense and thoughtfulness. 🙂

  19. Cripes, sorry about the bizarre autocorrect typos. Did not hit the X this time.

  20. associatedluke

    “So, for a known person, can you see how “The Golden Rule” is way down on the list?”
    -Sort of. I tend to view metals as the music industry does. Silver, Gold and then Platinum. And thus I order my thinking. Gold is the standard. If I can get to platinum, then that’s a good day, and wonderful encounter.

  21. Kimberly Cutting

    I have always applied the golden rule ever since I was a child, and while I have never gotten violent about it not being reciprocated, I have often gotten discouraged and disheartened. I applied the golden rule because I just wanted a friend who would be generous and thoughtful and remember on special occasions and care about me and be patient and helpful and considerate with me… not one person ever treated me as I treated them until I met my fiance. He was the 1st one to actually apply the golden rule to me in return. I feel blessed to have found him, but depressed that nobody else I meet is like him and I. I have never really applied the silver rule though, unfortunately… I am considered to be an extremely annoying person because I often do things I would rather others not do to me if they make me mad… or simply by accident because I am so patient and tolerant and unruffled by them doing those things onto me I expect them be so with me. My problem is I have trouble telling the difference between the gold rule and the platinum rule and most of the time I don’t know what people would want me to do onto them, and they refuse to tell me, which forces me to guess, and I usually guess wrong! What am I supposed to do?

  22. Kimberly, maybe do the Silver rule, in your case — one of no action.

  23. Peter

    Warning! Beware of Perfect Reciprocity.

    So this morning my work colleague gifted our volunteer staff member a small box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

    I was aghast because they were exactly the same present that she had given to us as a gift a few days previously. I made a facial grimace as he did this. “Not a problem” he said to me, “this is not the same box she gave us, this one is SMALLER!”

    Perfect reciprocity in gift-giving devalues the value of a gift freely given and turns it into a commodity to be transacted.

  24. @ Peter: Yep, regifting shows the problems with mandatory perfunctory gifting.

  25. Basically, the flaw is human, we imagine perfection and harmony, but never quite get the ego out of the way. Enjoyed the read Sabin. My golden rule is that love finds a way.

  26. @ pvcan: I value love immensely, but it is only one of many tools. Idealizing any strategy or any feeling seems an error to me.

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