The Golden Fool
From my first day of preschool to my last day of eighth grade, I rode West Side Christian’s bus #7 to school. For whatever reason, it was decided that southwest Walker suited #7 just fine, so why fix what isn’t broken? Because I spent ten years riding the same bus, we became intimately acquainted. I remember in second grade, sitting backward and facing the toughest test of my life in the form of two schmoozing fourth graders who wanted to negotiate an exchange of my first-edition holographic Charizard for an insulting Team Rocket Weezing (unsurprisingly, both those guys grew up to be car salesmen). I remember in fifth grade my seatmate and I had a stabbing contest to see who could puncture the most holes in the frayed leather seatback before our pencils broke. By the time I had reached those impishly formative middle school years, my fellow #7 riders and I had memorized every minute detail of our transport, right down to the gum stash underneath seat 23 that eluded Mrs. Fethke for three years.
Naturally, repairs were made that changed #7’s endearingly homey look, and different bus drivers had their aesthetical preferences when it came to interior decoration. But one adornment on #7 stood vigilant above the driver’s rearview mirror for all ten years: a plaque that echoed the Golden Rule, as stated in Luke 6:31.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Now call me a lukewarm Christian, but I’ve always thought that was a really lousy piece of advice. On days where my friends didn’t ride, I’d scrutinize that quote, and no matter the angle it just didn’t make sense. Did that mean that my teachers wanted me to stay outside long after recess had ended? Did my parents secretly want to order happy meals for every dinner? Did Mrs. Fethke have a good laugh every time she scraped gum off the bottom of our seats and think, “Those sweet little cherubs. Such a shame to let this delightful prank go unappreciated.” That’s what I would want to happen, anyway. Was I therefore obligated to act accordingly?
My eighth grade self concluded that it was a shame that everybody was not me.
I understand the premise, of course. If you don’t want your head bashed into a locker, don’t do that to others. If you enjoy compliments, you ought to hand them out yourself. Certainly there are universal applications of morality.
But make no mistake, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is a flawed statement. It would only work in a dreamlike utopia, where every person exhibits an identical preference and attitude—a scenario I truly believe would bore me to death.
My fiancé and I have analyzed this many times, mostly because the Golden Rule has been the bane of my relationship progress, ironically enough. We’ve come to the conclusion that whoever thought of it clearly lacked basic pragmatism. For years, I have been unwisely engaging Taryn according to my own set of principles and tastes. I tend to get restless during lengthy conversation, so after the five-minute mark I try not bore her with idle talk. Behavior that waxes silly or juvenile irritates me, so I find myself quietly withdrawing whenever I sense a Disney imitation coming. And at the crux of all that is wicked, I loathe overreaction, so to make sure Taryn never has to cope with such petty nonsense I underreact to everything.
This application of the Golden Rule has not served me well. It doesn’t do a lot of good to tell your fiancé that her coworker’s argument was not worth getting upset about, that she should’ve said “oh well” and just dealt with it, simply because that’s how you would have handled it. It just so happens that Taryn appreciates thorough intellectual discussions, singing along to “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” and empathetic responses to life’s bumps. Nay, I’ve found that treating others the way they want to be treated is a far more useful nugget of advice. Taryn was fortunate enough to be born with this knowledge, so she’s been selflessly suffering through country music radio and suppressing urges to recite BBC’s Pride & Prejudice for over six years. I’m a lucky man.
I’m not the only one to have noticed this about the Golden Rule. Nietzsche and Kant both object to its impractical use regarding different values, interests, and situations, so it appears I’m in good company. All it takes is a moment of thought to realize where the sense lies. As the venerable George Bernard Shaw argued, “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”
Nick Meekhof (’15) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.