A New Twist on the Golden Rule

This year of 2020 has certainly opened my eyes in more ways than I ever expected, and deconstructed so many things I thought were unshakeable truths. Even before COVID-19 locked us all in our homes, I heard something that completely upset the one rule I thought would always hold up to any scrutiny, the Golden Rule.

Back in February, my husband listened to a guest speaker at his work who was there to talk about diversity in honor of Black History Month. I’m paraphrasing what she said: “The Golden Rule says, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ but if you think about it, that’s a bit selfish. Just because you would like something done to you doesn’t mean someone else would. It should really say, ‘Do unto others as they would like things done to them.’”

I’ve been thinking about her comment for months now, but never more so than in the past few days. As the nation starts to emerge cautiously from strict quarantines, it feels like we’re being called upon more and more to take note of how others want to be treated. Some people are still feeling very protective of their space and cautious about re-entering the world. Others are ready to throw caution to the wind. Since we can’t be sure where anyone stands, it seems only right that we try to assess what makes them comfortable, as well as what makes us comfortable.

In the coming months or years, as the grip of the virus lessens, we’re going to need to seek permission more often: “Is it okay if I give you a hug? Do you mind if I shake your hand?”

We’re going to need to ask people how they want to be approached: “Should I drop off your gift on your porch, or do you want me to ring the doorbell and hand it to you? If we go for a walk together, are you okay with me not wearing a mask or would you rather I did?”

We’re going to need to determine when and how people want to re-enter society. “I’m happy to keep picking up groceries for you, unless you miss going to the store and want to do it yourself again. Are you ready to go to a restaurant yet or would your rather I bring over take-out?”

It almost feels as if we need to develop a new, more honest way to communicate. A post-corona language with cues so that one person can truthfully express what they need to feel at ease and the other person can sincerely express if that’s okay with them. Something that goes beyond our current:

“How are you feeling about meeting in person?”

“I don’t know, how are you feeling?”

Whatever that new language is, I hope we keep this focus on others even after the virus is no longer a threat. Imagine if people continued to say, “I’m getting over a cold, is it okay if I come in, or would you rather we just talk on the stoop?” or “Tell me if you’d prefer to have our meeting in person or over zoom. Whatever is most convenient for you.”

Maybe that speaker was right. Maybe we’ve reached an era in which even the Golden Rule could use an upgrade, a time when we truly understand what it means to treat the needs and feelings of others as equal to our own, and a time when we all develop the courage to speak genuinely about what we need so we can best serve each other. Some good has to come from this virus, right?

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