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The purpose of life is to both savor and nurture life. We nurture life through loving, since our loving acts enhance the wellbeing of others either directly, such as when we prepare a meal for our family, or indirectly, as when our work serves a benefit to our community.
Yet loving skillfully and effectively can be challenging. It is a practice we hopefully improve upon throughout our lives.
One timeless guideline for loving others that exists in all cultures and religions is some version of the Golden Rule:
“Do unto others that which you would have others do unto you.”
The Golden Rule is a cornerstone for loving mutuality and interdependence. It applies well to acts that are universally good, such as treating others with respect, compassion, consideration, and kindness, helping others in need, being generous in spirit, and providing support and understanding.
Yet the Golden Rule falls short when what we would want from others is not what is best for them. For most of us this is common sense. Though we may love ice cream, feeding lots of ice cream to a diabetic is not good for them. Instead, we try to provide healthy foods that do not cause spikes in blood sugar. A husband who loves tools would not do well to give tools as a present to his wife if she does not also love tools. Thoughtful giving entails giving not what we would want, but what the other wants (that is not harmful to them). We may love a good bottle of scotch, but it would be harmful to give such a gift to someone suffering from alcoholism.
When we say, “Do unto to others as we would have them do onto us,” the focus is on the self—what we would want others to do onto us. Thus the Golden Rule is a self-centric practice.
If one wants to love others both skillfully and effectively, we need to go beyond the Golden Rule to an empathic, other-centric practice—the Platinum Rule. The Platinum Rule rule states:
“Do unto others what is good for them.”
This is a statement of a shifting of awareness away from our own experience, to a practice of looking very deeply into the experience, needs, and desires of others, in order to discover their essence, and then learn, through interaction with others, what they truly wish is for, and what they need to enhance their lives.
It is important to note that Platinum Rule does not say to do unto others what they want, as what another person wants may or may not be good for them. If we are following the Platinum Rule, we don’t give our children lots of candy, let them smoke, or drink alcohol. We don’t let them drive if they ask is to. We set loving limits, hold them accountable, and provide discipline, even though these are not what a child may want.
The same goes for adults. A diabetic may want an ice cream cone, an alcoholic may want a drink, and a heroin addict may want money for their habit. Yet fulfilling their desires promotes their destruction. The same goes for shielding others from the painful consequences of their negative behaviors (we call this enabling), as this takes away the critical opportunity to learn and grow from the consequences of our actions. One of the risks of welfare is the fostering of dependency and the degrading of self-worth and self-reliance. This is why giving a hand up is often better than giving a hand out, even if this is what a person wants. According to the Platinum Rule, we do not give others necessarily what they want, but what is good for them.
The Platinum Rule also applies to us. Our first task is to take care of ourselves, to enhance our own well being, so that we can then love others. When practicing the Platinum Rule, we should not sacrifice our own well-being, as this detracts from our capacity to love.
The Platinum Rule is far more helpful for our interconnected human web of being–self and others. The Platinum Rule empowers us to focus on what we can do to enhance the well-being of all life, (which happens to also include us). It is a more enlightened practice that enables a deeper fulfillment of love and connection with the web of life of which we are all a part.