Social Question

sensin's avatar

Is there a flaw in the golden rule?

Asked by sensin (243points) May 6th, 2014

Just reading up on the golden rule from wikipedia, and it simplifies it as

One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

I don’t like help/handouts. I like to pave my own way even under times of desperation. I have experienced rock-bottom and got out of it on my own. For this reason I will never help anyone. The problem, though, is that the person in need of help wants my help. Is this a flaw in the rule? According to the definition, I am following the golden rule where I am treating another human being as I would want to be treated.

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37 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

There may come a time, even for you, when you need some assistance. Illness, accident, natural catastrophe. No one gets away scott free.

What harm would it do to help someone who needs or wants your help without expecting any reciprocity?

chyna's avatar

It’s not always about helping someone either. Don’t treat others like crap because you wouldn’t want to be treated like crap.

talljasperman's avatar

Too bad that it doesn’t work on the opposite sex… If I did to others like I would like them to do on to me, I would be in jail.

ragingloli's avatar

It does not quite work for psychopaths.

josie's avatar

It is a valid notion, until it is no longer a voluntary exchange. Thus, when the government becomes a broker of charity it is a corruption of an otherwise noble idea.

GloPro's avatar

I don’t relate it to handouts at all. I relate it to holding a door open for someone behind me. Getting up to offer someone injured, pregnant, or older my seat. Letting someone in front of me in a traffic jam. I do take the time to be nice and pay that niceness forward as often as I can. Choose to be less judgemental of other’s lifestyles and tribulations. Drive a friend to the airport or the doctor. Buy your neighbor some fruit when you’re at the farmer’s market.

So, bottom line for me is just be nice. Be friendly. Take the money out of the equation, because not everybody has it.

What makes you say that a person in need of help wants your help? Are they directly asking?

Eggie's avatar

I am sure with all the paving you have paved to get where you are today, there was someone in the background that helped you get where you are today. This world is made up where everyone; regardless of race, stature or sex….we all need each other.

marinelife's avatar

It is assumed that you would treat yourself well, accept help when you need it, treat others and yourself with compassion.

The flaw is in you not the rule.

Kardamom's avatar

I guess what’s missing from your textbook version of the Golden Rule is compassion. I think that is the real intent of the Golden Rule. Just because you don’t want or need any help, other people/animals/institutions/charities would be grateful for your help, kindness, and generosity without a condition or expectation of reciprocity. Also, doing kind things for other people should be done because they are kind, not because of payback. Some deeds call for reciprocity, others do not. It is the kind and wise person who knows when and why to be helpful/useful to others.

The Golden Rule is kind of like a guideline for compassion, not an eye for an eye kind of law.

I guess you should want or expect compassionate people to want to help you if you were in need.

wildpotato's avatar

Yes, you can easily make the Golden Rule contradict itself if you fill in the content with the example you give – and in this way, it is indeed flawed as a moral guideline.

A better formulation of the intent behind the Golden Rule is Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

See how this gets around the subjective necessity of the Golden Rule’s hypothetical imperative? In your example, you are (reasonably, by the Rule’s direction) saying: I don’t want help, therefore I ought to treat others as though they do not want help. But from the standpoint of the categorical imperative: regardless of your personal feelings on and experience in the matter of being helped, can you rationally will as universal law that no one should ever receive help?

jerv's avatar

I don’t like help either, but one must do what one must do, so I’ve occasionally asked for help anyways. Pride is no excuse to be psychopathic.

And I doubt anybody ever got up entirely by themselves, so I view those claiming to have done so with skepticism (at best). All it takes is one friend loaning you $20 to get through until payday to render such claims utterly invalid.

So the flaw in the Golden Rule is that it assumes that you’re a normal person of sound mind, complete with empathy, compassion, and otherwise fit for society.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

^^^^^ So the flaw in the Golden Rule is that it assumes that you’re a normal person of sound mind, complete with empathy, compassion, and otherwise fit for society.

The other, bigger flaw is the rule assumes the other person will also be a normal person of sound mind, complete with empathy, compassion, and otherwise fit for society.

hearkat's avatar

I’ve always interpreted the Golden Rule thusly: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you if you were in that situation. That last bit seemed pretty obvious to me, so I figured that was why it went unspoken.

weeveeship's avatar

Doesn’t quite work for people who expect to be treated poorly and who treat others poorly in return.

majorrich's avatar

To twist the logic a bit. Someone mistreats me, that must mean he wants to be mistreated. There have been situations where I would have been very happy to oblige.

hominid's avatar

If you are considering a “rule” in the traditional sense, then it’s not a surprise that it’s causing some confusion. But what if you chose to extract the moral intuition that is at the core of that statement? (Nearly) everyone wants to be treated with respect and to not be harmed. You know this because you also feel this. This is just one example of how compassion and empathy can guide you in your interactions with people who have all kinds of needs and desires.

The golden rule isn’t a declaration to treat everyone exactly the same. It’s the concept of considering that others are human and have human needs and desires – just like you.

Crazydawg's avatar

IMO it is a flaw in your thought process and not even a case of rules are meant to be broken. People for what ever reason can use or need help. To begrudge anyone help when you can extend any degree of help is selfish and breaks the most basic of human moral codes. I give when I am able because there may be a day when things are just too tough to do it on my own.

ibstubro's avatar

I’m very independent and I’ve never taken an handout or asked for one. However, when I was about 23, I was cast adrift with no anchor. One of my aunts – who lived in a 2 bedroom apartment in a rundown 4-plex – told me I could come stay with her while I got my feet back under me. I knew she was sincere, and she’d done it for other people. No strings, then or after. From that time on, I’m still paying it forward.

Last week I offered to loan an 18 kid lawyer fees if a lawyer can keep an underage drinking arrest off his record. He’s a good kid, and good for it. It’s not a handout, it’s reaching out a hand.

Just do what you can.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

You didn’t want help because you didn’t need it.

If you needed it then you’d likely want help.

If you needed help but didn’t want it, then there is likely something wrong with you. That’s the way drunks, and addicts act.

Giving help when it isn’t needed is just as bad as refusing help when it is needed.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

The Golden Rule as it is believed and practiced by mankind, is flawed from the get go. If it is treated like an ad hoc, open source rule, then it is like the Internet, no one owns it, can control it, or define how it should be applied exactly. What is a Golden Rule in the East would be different in the West, same as different in the Hamptons as it would be in Hell’s Kitchen.

johnpowell's avatar

My god. If you were in my family at the thanksgiving dinner our fights would be PPV.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

The flaw isn’t in the Rule. The flaw is in your character

cazzie's avatar

Love this from @jerv ‘Pride is no excuse to be psychopathic’. Or, in your case, @sensin that is exactly what you are doing. Pride is one of the seven deadly, so…. chose your ‘rules to live by’ carefully. If I were you, I would err on the side of caution, pull your head in and find some sympathy for your fellow man. I agree with @Espiritus_Corvus . If you really think that no one has ever helped you, ever, you are indeed prideful and delusional.

JLeslie's avatar

Don’t overanalyze it. The point is to consider the spirit of the rule. Most people talk about the golden rule in terms of being kind to others, fair, honest. It is basically about living in society and considering other people and how we all are intertwined. Being able to put yourself in their shoes. Some time in your life you might benefit or need help from someone else, and when someone does help, hopefully you will recognize how a small thing can have a huge impact.

You can turn it around and think of it as you want to be treated as you treat others. Are there things some people do that you feel are rude, unfeeling, hurtful, harmful? Things you would never do? You expect them to behave in a certain way that you find acceptable? Then you expect them to be playing by the golden rule.

The first time I heard someone think the golden rule was a bad philosophy was here on fluther and I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine anyone could twist it so much. The person happened to be Christian and right wing and it shocked me even more. But, the politics of today are similar to what you propose in your original question. I guess I should not be shocked.

thorninmud's avatar

It would obviously be misguided to interpret the Golden Rule as saying that we should project our own preferences and dislikes onto others and treat them accordingly. That deprives people of their individuality, their person-hood. Imposing one’s own preferences on everyone else is a disastrous social strategy.

Harmony requires a subtle negotiation between individuals in which each others’ preferences are taken into consideration, and compromises and adjustments are made. When this happens, the individuals don’t feel that their personal integrity has been trampled on. This is the larger point of the Golden Rule that goes beyond the minutiae: we all want to live in harmony, and we all want our individuality to be respected. Now, let your actions reflect that mutual desire.

You don’t want others to jump to your aid because you value your self-sufficiency. Others should honor that and not force their aid on you just because they have different values. But the Golden Rule would require the same consideration of you in dealing with someone who could use some help, and doesn’t have that same preference.

eno's avatar

Indeed it is a flaw and the rule itself would weaken you as a human being if you were to adopt it. I suggest you make and stick to your own moral choices and not do what the majority does. Just make sure it is not something illegal. The rest is free reign. That is basically what I do and it served me well. Try this on for size link

stanleybmanly's avatar

Let’s understand this. You are telling us that if you need help——any sort of help, you will refuse it on principle? No 911 call from a passing stranger when that heart attack arrives?

Winter_Pariah's avatar


ragingloli's avatar

There is not, was not, will never be, a single human alive on this planet, that “made it” all on his own. From the moment they are born, they need the help of others to survive, to grow, to learn.

longgone's avatar

You’re misunderstanding it. Listen to @wildpotato.

Adagio's avatar

@sensin You wrote “I don’t like help/handouts. I like to pave my own way even under times of desperation. I have experienced rock-bottom and got out of it on my own. For this reason I will never help anyone.”

Have you ever read this? It just keeps coming to mind…

No Man Is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

~John Donne

majorrich's avatar

No man is an island, but when you pee, unination!

SavoirFaire's avatar

The Golden Rule is an imperfect way of expressing a rule of thumb that we would all be wise to follow in the absence of strong reasons not to do so. It reminds us that we all need roughly similar things in order to live well, and that it would be hypocritical of us to stand in the way of others living well while expecting them to allow us to live well. That is the ethic of reciprocity. This is not how people tend to apply the rule, however, and so it frequently—and deservedly—comes in for criticism.

Sometimes people criticize the formulation. The best example of this is probably George Bernard Shaw’s quip: “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” Other times, people criticize the use to which the rule is put. An example here is Nietzsche’s complaint that the rule is used to promote not an ethic of reciprocity, but an unmitigated and one-sided altruism that ultimately weakens those who might otherwise do much for both themselves and others.

That said, I think Linus Pauling had a point when he suggested that what we should actually do unto others is 25% better than we expect them to do for us—the extra 25% being to correct for subjective error. It comes off as a joke, but we often overestimate our own needs while underestimating the needs of others. Reciprocity is still the goal, but it comes with a reminder that we’re inherently biased in our own favor.

Note: reciprocity is neither altruism nor egoism. The ethic of reciprocity, at least in its more sophisticated forms, is a form of mutualism that recognizes the ways in which the good of oneself and the good of others are intertwined rather than opposed.

Crazydawg's avatar

There is a huge flaw in the thought process of anyone who takes one side over the other. One will take the altruistic approach to showing the other side what it is like to be nice to the others that are not so nice. The not so nice will then step up and attempt to show their followers how much fun and how easy it is to take advantage of these benevolent folks. It is a true oil and water dynamic….you will always choose to be oil or water and sadly never ever be able to mix the 2 together.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Crazydawg We only think it’s oil and water. What the unrelentingly altruistic fail to recognize is that giving is not always good for others. What the unrelentingly selfish fail to recognize is that taking advantage of others has long-term consequences for oneself. If we are careful and reflective, we will see that—due to the workings of human psychology and because our own interests and the interests of others are not very divergent—what is in our own interests and what is in the interests of others are one and the same thing. Benevolence provides psychological benefits, and taking advantage of others brings with it psychological harms (which often manifest in anger and a compulsion for self-justification). Thus benevolence and self-interest do not come apart.

Adagio's avatar

@Dan_Lyons oh yes, I’d forgotten about that kind of rock and island : ^)

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