July 18, 2024

the platinum rule

a statue of an orca (the whale) resting on land
photo caption: a statue of an orca sitting on Orcas island. the names are a coincidence: orca is latin for whale, and Orcas is short for Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, the colonizer who renamed it. isn’t it so cute?

The Golden Rule is a central Christian tenet for most practitioners. For the unfamiliar the saying means (roughly), “treat others how you yourself want them to treat you.” Professor Leonard Swidler writes that similar sayings sprung up in at least four places in 6th century B.C. He also describes a few variations of the rule. The Silver Rule is the negative form of the golden one: “do not do to your neighbor what you do not want done to yourself.” Going one step further than gold is the Platinum Rule, which goes something like: “treat your neighbor as they wish you to treat them.”

the one rule to rule them all

The Platinum Rule is my preferred variation. Many of my essays touch on the harm that assumptions can create. If we’re strangers, there’s a lot you don’t know about me. People who sit comfortably within the confines of dominant culture tend to assume a lot. It works best for them, why wouldn’t it work for everyone else? They can fill the gaps in their knowledge with assumptions about the people they meet.

This can lead to the unfortunate conclusions that sometimes show up as microaggressions. If someone looks like me, it’s safe for me to assume that they like the same things I do. If they don’t look like me, I may assume they are a danger to me. Or that they know where to find the best Indian food in town. Or that they’re an immigrant here to look for work.

I’m not any of these things, but people have made these assumptions about me at some point. None of them are right—at least not because of my identity or appearance. I don’t want you to treat me like you want me to treat you. I want you to treat me like I want to be treated. I want to treat you like you want to be treated.

There are plenty of aspects of you that I may want to know about. I may find them interesting, or they could relate to an aspect of my own identity that could bond us together. Even in the workplace, it can be helpful to know about parts of people’s lives outside their walls or zoom boxes. I’m not advocating for us to isolate ourselves even more or to learn even less about the people around us. I want to change the default assumption that we know something about each other before we know it. If you assume my gender or ethnic background, you haven’t actually learned anything. It doesn’t bring us closer together, it walls us off.

how do we learn about each other?

I don’t know your pronouns until you tell me. I don’t know where you’re from until you tell me. I’ll trust you to tell me if it matters for me to know. I’ll offer you safety in being able to share those aspects of yourself.

I’ll have interest in those around me as people, not as a collection of facts. I’ll find common interests that could help us relate to each other. I’ll be aware of the power dynamic between us when I decide what and when to share aspects of myself. I’ll risk being vulnerable with you but won’t expect you to reciprocate. I’ll take the time to get to know you as a person.

when you assume

Professor Swidler writes that we don’t need the Platinum Rule. It tries to “misconstrue and empty the clear meaning of the positive Golden Rule.” I wish I could agree. Instead, I think he assumes that everyone will interpret the Golden Rule the way he does. I’d rather not do that.

photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space