Funk’s Platinum Rule

Don’t harm others – according to their definition of harm.

How can I question the “Golden Rule” and offer a “Platinum Rule”?

Okay, let’s start by analysing the Golden Rule, which is commonly stated as, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Of course I agree with the underlying concept of treating others well, but I see a problem with this form of the Golden Rule: the “do-er” decides what should be done to others, and the needs and desires of the “do-ees” are ignored.

Let me give you an extreme example — the Spanish Inquisition. (I’ll refrain from the obvious Monty Python joke.) The first Grand Inquisitor was Tomás de Torquemada. [Wikipedia] Let’s assume he truly believed that eternal afterlife in heaven was only granted to those whose religious beliefs were the same as those he held, and that people who didn’t share those beliefs would instead burn in hell for eternity. Might not he also believe that, had he not come to this understanding, he would hope someone would do whatever it took to convince him to come to the beliefs that would grant him eternal afterlife in heaven – even if that meant the use of extreme techniques of persuasion (aka torture)? This might have been his justification for torturing those whose religious beliefs differed from his.

There’s another saying that is considered by many to be an alternate form of the Golden Rule: “That which is hateful to you do not do to others,” attributed to the Jewish sage Hillel, who is believed to have lived in the first century BCE. [Wikipedia] I consider this a superior form of the Golden Rule because it is a explicitly attempting to prevent harm to others, but it still leaves the decision of correct behavior to the “do-er.”

Western civilization, especially here in the USA, is very literal. So a phrase that makes it explicitly clear the goal is to avoid harming others, while making it clear that it is up to the “others” to decide if an action is harmful, might be helpful. Thus my (hopefully) succinct “Platinum Rule”:

“Don’t harm others — according to their definition of harm.”

[Originally published June 6, 2013]