Tag Archives: Lifestyle

The “Golden Rule” is not so Golden; it’s Time for New Guidelines

Rockwell's Gold Rule, The Saturday Evening Post, April 1, 1961
Rockwell’s Gold Rule, The Saturday Evening Post, April 1, 1961

More and more, I find myself cringing when I hear friends and colleagues promote the virtues of the Golden Rule or the rule of thumb. A popular ethical ideal, this rule tells that a guide to being ethical is that we should treat people the way we want to be treated; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “do nothing to others you don’t want to be done to yourself.” The notion is this, limit the harm you may cause to others. Indeed, Google’s old motto, for they have now done away with it, “don’t be evil,” is a reflection of the Golden Rule.

But why talk about the Golden Rule? Isn’t is it old fashion and out of date in practice? This is what philosopher Bill Puka suggests, in his article on “The Golden Rule” for the Encyclopedia of Philosophy; “we must acknowledge that the gold rule is no longer taken seriously in practice or even aspiration, but merely paid lip service.” I must disagree, most folks I know use the Golden Rule as their main barometer for action. It may not be seriously promoted in the upper echelon of education, but most of my students, colleagues, and friends, when asked how they make decisions about how to act, explain how they live their life by the Golden rule. For most of society, it seems a simple, no-nonsense way of being and guide for action.

As a simple philosophy of behavior, the Golden Rule has been around for a very long time, has been celebrated by almost all cultures historically (Western and Eastern philosophy), and it has two primary functions, one problematic and the other helpful. Let’s start with the useful aspect of The Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule asks us to get out of our skin and to consider how someone else may wish to be treated or not treated. As humans, we have a hard time stepping out of our skin. Our emotions, genes, neurological make-up, cultural sensibility, all of these things tend to re-enforce a focus on “self” rather than an understanding of others. And, if you happen to live in communities influenced by individualism, such as the US, Australia or England, it is even harder to step out of your skin to view others. “Me” cultures focus so much on self; the assumption often made is: I feel this way, so others must feel this way too! This assumption is wrong. It assumes (ASS out of U and ME) a Universal value system, which tends to fall flat in most practical situations. However, as a rule, this so-called Rule of Thumb does beg us to think of others, which is the first step toward empathic communication.

However, it is not enough. To assume that people want to be treated the same way I want to be treated, this is what we call an attribution error; we incorrectly attribute the reason for action, motivation, and needs.

Let me give you an example, first, a situation from my point of view. I am driving down the road, and some butthead almost runs me off and into a ditch:

“Oh, Shit,” I say as I struggle to not get in an accident and stay on the road. “What was he thinking? Can’t he see there are other people on the road? We all had to get a license to drive, did he forget the same rules I was given?? Damn, Dude! If I were that driver, even if I were in a hurry, I would take a chill pill and get myself together!”

Now, let’s look at the same situation from the other driver’s point of view. He is speeding down the highway, the same road I was on. He has a child lying in the back of his car, something I cannot see. His thoughts might be:

“I have got to get to the hospital now! Hold on baby, we are almost there; Daddy loves you! Oh god, that woman is in my way. Move! Move!!! Oh god, I can’t get around her! There’s an opening!” He sees the woman yelling in her car and at him. “I am sorry, lady, but I have to get to the hospital now!”

"Alnomuc, or, The golden rule, with twenty-four engravings" Year: 1837 (1830s) Authors: Amory, John H
“Alnomuc, or, The golden rule, with twenty-four engravings” Year: 1837 (1830s) Authors: Amory, John H

It is impossible for me to know what is going on with the other driver, just as it is impossible for the other driver to know what is going on with me. I have limited information about the situation. Indeed, all either of us has to go on are our assumptions, biases, and personal experiences, all of which are failing in this case.

The Golden Rule fails in practice because we really can never tell instinctively or otherwise how someone wants to be treated, or why they do what they do; what their motivation for action happens to be.

Attribution errors are the cause of most negative conflicts in life, miscommunication, and other missteps in life. Because the Gold Rule inherently relies on the attribution error (people act and want to be treated the same way I like to be treated), it is not golden. This is especially true in a global community, made up of many cultures holding varying values. So, what do we do? And how does any of this apply to my life, my community, or my professional and private life?

We inform, question, investigate, and then act. One reason the Golden Rule seems so awesome is that it asks little of us! We have a rule, and all we have to do is to look at ourselves and then decide how to act. How convenient is that?! However, as comfortable as it is, it is not helpful. Rather than creating an attribution error because of built-in assumptions of the work, it is time to proactive rather than simplistically reactive. Let me give you another example from a personal situation.

The other day, I had my tooth extracted. It was not a good dentist appointment. I was shot up with Novocain, and then it turned out that my insurance said I did not exist. So, the procedure was stopped, while the office worked things out. It took over an hour. We got back to it, but I had to be shot-up again. Then the extraction went south. My tooth did not want to leave me, you know, separation anxiety. The experience was more than painful, and I was left exhausted, in a great deal of pain, and emotionally spent. My partner walked me home, and then we went back to work. In pain, I wondered why he was not helping me! “My own husband! He doesn’t care; why is he not soothing me?”

Bernard d'Agesci (1757-1828), La justice, musée de Niort. Holds scales in one hand and in the other hand a book with "Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi" on one page and the Golden rule on the other page.
Bernard d’Agesci (1757-1828), La justice, musée de Niort. Holds scales in one hand and in the other hand a book with “Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi” on one page and the Golden rule on the other page.

From my husband’s point of view, I was in pain, but I was okay. I got up, made myself small things to eat and drink, replied to students, and did other small tasks. Clearly, I was fine. But by the time night came, I was worse and frustrated with him. He, in turn, was not sure what to do for me or if I needed him to do anything for me. “Why,” I wondered, “did he not know the ‘playbook’ for taking care of his wife when she was in pain and emotionally spent?”

Why? Because I never gave him a “playbook” or any instructions on how he could help me. I made a fundamental attribution error in my assumption that he would just know what to do. The next morning, I sent him an email with a playbook: “this is what your wife needs when she is down and out. Please send me your playbook so I can take care of you when you need it.”

What a crazy thought?! Tell the people around you what you need. Likewise, ASK the people around you what they need and why they do what they do. Probing questions immediately take power away from assumptions and other attribution errors:

“I don’t understand why you are doing it this way, can you explain?” “Are you ok? What can I do for you?” “When you send emails to more than one person, please address names on the emails so I can better know when and if you are talking to me, or the other person on the email.” “Emily, I could use your help. I am sorry, I was getting angry at the fact that you were not helping with this office project, but then I realized you did not know I needed help! So, I am asking.”

In the end, using probing questions and other forms of empathic communication can save us the grief that often comes along with a problematic application of the Golden Rule as well as attribution errors. If we start to understand how people need, think, feel and act for different reasons that we do, we can begin to create better-living, working, and communing situations for us all.


Nurturing Empathy in the US: Thank you, Karl Becker

Karl Becker. Picture credit: ABC News
Karl Becker. Picture credit: ABC News

Karl Becker, the last questioner at last night’s debate, reminded us (I hope) that what we are missing in today’s world, not only in our politics is empathy. If you did not see the debate, he is the one who asked Clinton and Trump to state just one thing they liked about each other.

There was no empathy on that debate stage, maybe the occasional stab at sympathy, but no empathy.

Trump and Clinton, Second presidential debate. ABC News is the author of the image.
Trump and Clinton, Second presidential debate. ABC News is the author of the image.
The world we are living in is missing an empathetic understanding of each other and our environment – nature-, and unless we start to seriously recapture our ability to empathize, we will be lost. That is what I absolutely have come to understand.
This hit home when I was in Ireland, where I experienced more empathy and kindness for each other and our environment. There was almost no homeless, no graffiti or trash is thrown about. People were courteous and helpful to each other, including strangers. If you smiled at someone on the street, they smiled back and the drivers … OMG … amazingly courteous. We were biking on some roads that allowed for 100 km (62 miles per hour) and these folks gave us room to ride, even when there was no shoulder. We were not honked at, cussed at, yelled at or made to feel like we did not belong. Sharing the road was a given. I experienced, time and again, courtesy and Empathy.
In Ireland, statue in Tralee
In Ireland, statue in Tralee

When I came back from Ireland, I felt lost and ashamed. How could we treat each other like this? Treat our living environment like a trash heap? Like others, I have become a bit callous because it is so hard to live opened up emotionally when I see and experience our world where “me, me, me, mine, and I” is all we promote. A daily experience where we tell each other what to do (because our way is right and your way is wrong), and we do not respect each others autonomy or cultural differences, and where we have NO respect for our environment. I have such anxiety that I simply want to move out to the country where I do not have to be inflicted with the continuous lack of common kindness, courtesy, the lack of empathy we encourage in our world.

We must change. We must, must, must change and Becker’s final question asks those who would lead us to better embody empathy. We need examples of what this means for our children, and our children’s children. We cannot give them a clean and well-ordered world, but we can give them an understanding of how humans, through empathy and care for each other, can fix our world because this is the first step and the most important step. 

Sustainability, Reeducation, and Reinvention

El Pensador de Rodin – CC BY-SA 3.0 by Emiliorisoli

Sustainability means reinvention to some degree.  It means an ability to improvise in your life, adjust to changes, and allowing yourself and ability to be relevant in relation to times, markets, current events, and so on.

Life moves on, and so should we … Stagnation kills.

When looking at sustainability and reinvention, some questions you might consider are:

  • What are the different ways we can apply our skills to maximize our success in this changing world?
  • What are the different formal educational and re-educational efforts we need to make to promote sustainability in an ever-changing world?
  • How can we acquire informal education in order to stay relevant and sustain our life and living?
  • Work-life balances (not an easy thing to achieve in our world and culture).

I’ve been looking at each of these different questions in regard to reinvention, sustainability, and happy living.  Indeed, many friends in my age group and in the generation ahead of me, has had to re-examine these things rather specifically. With the loss of savings and retirement because the 2007 crash of the market, many of us has found our 401(k)s going south for the winner and staying there (you would think the “south” was doing much better than it is – aka Joke).

There is also the problem of job markets for an older generation. Yes, you might find a position at McDonald’s, but is that going to help sustain you? As older workers are displaced by a younger generation, we have to find our way in the world where retirement is now a part of our mythology.

This is conversely true for younger and mid career workers who are waiting for older workers to retire. What do you do when the old Guard can’t retire, and you are left working numerous jobs in order to survive?

I personally am facing many of these issues, and I have many friends who are facing these issues as well. Many of us are actively seeking to reinvent ourselves, achieving hoped for relevancy in a trying market. There are several options to our reinventions: we can going to business for ourselves, we can gain new skills so that we can be hired full-time, and we can change our living conditions, making it more sustainable to fully live on a smaller income.

Regarding this conundrum and the questions I outlined above, here are a few thoughts I have on each question, and maybe some of this will be relevant to you as well.

What are the different ways we can apply our skills to maximize our success in our world?

If you lived life, you have many skills!  It is time to look at your skills and determine how they might help sustain you and help you make a living.  Your skills do not only come from jobs your have worked, but everyday life. Maybe you excel at organization, managing other, fundraising, cooking, cleaning, growing things, and so many other skills. These everyday life skills can transfer to a job of some type!

The AARP has a good article on skill set recognition you might be interested in: Do you Know Your Skill Set?

How to find a job that fits those skills:

Make a list of what you do well, and use that to find jobs.  Here are some resources for this effort:

O*NET — the Occupational Information Network – which is a government sponsored “tool for career exploration and job analysis!”

National Business Service alliance offers the WorkSearch Assessment System – to help you place your skills with the right market. – Recommended by AARP

Should you see yourself as a commodity?

One piece of advice I came up with, over and over again, as I researched this was: “Develop a strong personal brand – YOU are the product.

This is our world’s “cup of Kool-Aid” presently, at least here in the US. In the 1980s in the 1990s it was all about multitasking; today it’s about PR, and promoting yourself as a product … a thing to be bought and sold, negotiated over and transformed.

Maybe I have read too much Marxism in my life, but this smells a great deal of commodification and fetishization of self. I am not a product to be objectified. I am a human being with human being needs. To be objectified is a problem. We objectify so much in our culture, the last thing we need to do is objectify ourselves by selling our self as a product for a few measly bucks.

You are not a brand. You are a human being with skills that can be marketed. You’re marketing your skills, not yourself as an object to be bought, sold, and manipulated. Yes, networking is important, whom you know is important, and the relationships you create are important, and how you promote your skills … important, but you are not a thing. A great deal of our unhappiness in this world can be traced back to commodification and Fetishization of self. Just say no!

What are the different educational and re-educational efforts we need to make to promote sustainability in an ever-changing world?

First, we have the category of formal education outlets: Find a technical college, a program at a community college, or get a new degree at a four-year institution.

Drawbacks to Gaining a Formal Education: 

The biggest drawback to getting an education from a higher learning institution is expense. The cost for a higher learning education has grown exponentially over the last few years. According to College Data, the price for one year of college education, for a moderate college in an in-state public setting, 2013 to 2014, averaged approximately $23,000. If you were looking at a private college, that price tag is more like $44,750.

If you already have a college degree, and you’re looking at reeducation, you may not be interested in paying close to $150,000 for a new degree. And of course, these figures reflect undergraduate and not graduate education. Graduate education is often one third more in intuition, and these numbers do not reflect the amount of money you will be paying out for books.

Cost of NOT having a formal higher education today:

If you do not already have a formal higher education, you just might want to get one! According to Pew Research, workers who do not have a college degree will earn up to $17,500 a year less than they’re educated counterparts working the same job. 

Further, without a college degree, you may find jobs are not available to you. More and more often, even the most common labor jobs (including McDonalds cashiers) are requiring a college degree, limiting the market to those who are educated and have “drunk from the Kool-Aid.” 

How can we informally acquire reeducation to stay relevant and sustain our life and living?

Self Education:

If you are self-motivated, you can get your own education without paying a dime. The problem is that this education will not necessarily be “formalized,” or have that “official stamp of approval.” It’s amazing how this world respects the buying and purchasing of education, but not the acquiring of solid knowledge through personal effort and practice. So, for those of you who just simply love to acquire knowledge, beware. You might be better off buying yourself a degree.

NOTE: I am NOT sanctioning this method. I am a college teacher and would never tell you to buy a degree, it is meant tongue-in-cheek, as sarcasm for a screwed up prioritized system.

Here are some resources in this area:

Exploring continuing education courses in your backyard – where you work:

Many employers offer the ability to acquire continuing education. Many companies will actually pay part of the cost for going back to school and gaining new skills. There are workshops offered, conferences, and other such resources. Find out what resources are available to you, and use them. You would be amazed how often these resources are left to the wayside, unused and unexplored, along with our vacation hours! These resources are part of your “benefits” package. Don’t let them go to waste.

Seeking a mentor, acquiring a “folk” education, or taking on an apprenticeship:

Many people are taking their expertise and bringing it to the World Wide Web. There are many classes out there that will help you achieve your goals, and in this way you can find a mentor, a folk education, or an apprenticeship.


You’re never too young or old for a mentor. Mentors are people who happen to know the skills needed to succeed in a certain area in life, skills that you may wish to acquire. He or she can help you achieve your goals and dreams, and you can find a deep and satisfying life long friendship with your mentor. Sometimes mentors come into our lives and exit as quickly as they seem to have come on the scene. Other mentors stay with you for a very long time. Sometimes you switch roles with your mentors, and you become the leader for a short period of time. These are fulfilling partnerships. Seek them!

I really enjoyed this article by Zenalda Lorenzo, on Huffington Post, about why mentoring is important.

Indeed, today I sought out two friends, who have skills that I greatly admire, and ask them to be my mentors. The best way to learn is to reach out to those who know the skills that you wish to acquire.

Get a Folk Education: 

I define a folk education as a type of mentorship that offers formal instruction, and you’re paying for the knowledge, but you’re not going to get a certificate that’s accepted widely. There are benefits and drawbacks to this approach. The benefit is that often this type of education is a little less expensive. The person offering the education is normally well known in his or her field, and s/he can give you the real life tools you need to succeed. The drawback is that many in your community will not likely formally recognize the certificate and/or the value of the instruction. Credentials being what they are in our world.

I am taking this route myself right now as I learn herbalism. I am going to Sage school, and I’m getting a wonderful education in herbalism and holistic health. But because I will not have any kind of “official” certificate or degree at the end of the program, my skills and how I can market those skills will be limited – simply because of the world we live in and how we value the acquisition of knowledge. But still, for myself, it has been a rewarding experience.

If you take this direction in your education, research your instructors! Anybody can be an “expert” on the Internet. You never know if you’ve come up with somebody who’s just very clever with how they sell themselves, or if you’re dealing with someone who really has the knowledge that is claimed. This approach means that you have to be proactive, do the research to find out if you’re putting your money in a good place.


Before the world of formal education, we had apprenticeships! Depending upon the culture you were born into, you may have been fostered out to a family, and taught a skill that would support you for life. In more modern times, people might’ve been apprenticed out to different businesses in order to acquire a life long working skill. Not too long ago, in the grand scheme of things, my father went through an apprenticeship to become an electrician. Indeed, the electrician union still provides apprenticeship opportunities.

Find yourself an apprenticeship. Of course, apprenticeships don’t normally pay, as you work for the person or the business, while you learn a trade. It is a trade-off, but a fair one in the end. If you can afford this trade off, I highly suggest it. Learning from an expert, and gaining hands-on, real life training is very important for many trades.

Work-life balance

The final thing I want to talk about is work – life balance. We live in a world where we forgo our vacations, forgo raises, and work multiple jobs just to make a living or keep a job. What are we trying to sustain? Well, often we’re trying to sustain a way of life that is not sustainable: a large house, several cars, a social life that means going out all the time, expensive gadgets, brand-new clothes, and so on and so forth. Indeed, we are even told that we need these things in order to be happy. But is this t?

I have had both in life, the expensive dwelling, cable, Internet, expensive gadgets, brand-new clothes, and an active nightlife. I have also had the opposite, a small dwelling, entertainment out in nature that cost little to engage in, card games with friends, and reading a great book in the corner of my trailer. Although the trailer at the time gave me nothing but great pain, as it was a piece of crap, the lifestyle brought me great joy.

Ask yourself these important questions:

  • One, are you living a sustainable lifestyle?
  • Two, are you living the lifestyle you wish to live?
  • Three, do you find that you’re working every day, all the time, just to sustain what you have? Or rather, four, does it take little to sustain what you have and need to live on, and in the end, affords you the good life: Time to enjoy life and those around you, and pursue other interests outside of work?

Take a moment and really determine what it is you want out of life, and then determine what you need to do to get that dream. If you want the large house, multiple cars, and the occasional vacation to France, you may have to work a job that will afford you these pleasures, which means giving up everyday freedom. If on the other hand, you are satisfied with small spaces, and more experiences over things, it may be time to consider sizing down and moving forward.

Right now I am taking a great class on how to achieve Mortgage Freedom from folks who have been there and changed that! Create Pathway to Mortgage Freedom. You might wish to find similar mentors for the life vision you are seeking.

A long article this week, but I hope you find some of the advice offered helpful!