“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I remember having this proverb pounded into my head at home and at school throughout my formative years, but as an adult have found it to be inaccurate and limiting. What we each like when it comes to love and support is distinctive, and it’s dependent on our personality, our needs, past experiences, and context.
For example, early on in my marriage I got in the habit of giving my wife cards that were almost always cartoons, and especially Peanuts ones because that is MY favorite comic strip. She was always appreciative, but not exactly jumping up and down with joy. What I finally realized was that I was giving her what I enjoyed receiving and wasn’t really looking at what made her happy. What she loved was more mushy cards with flowery sayings or poems. Once I began giving her those types she felt more loved and appreciated.
I teach adolescent girls two other “rules” instead of the golden rule.
One is the “silver rule”. That one reflects my example above: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto themselves.” In other words, treat people the way THEY’D like to be treated. Listen carefully when they speak about things they like, things that bring them joy. Notice what makes them happy and helps them feel loved by you or others. Observe what gifts or actions create the best reaction in them. Also note what offerings they tend to give to others, because people unconsciously tend to give what they most enjoy receiving.
Teens like learning about the 5 love languages described by author Gary Chapman, and it allows them to have a language for expressing how they and others like to be loved. We all have particular ways we like to be supported, whether it is receiving gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, or my favorite, physical touch. The silver rule would tell you to figure out people’s favorite love language and shower them with that.
One other “rule” to consider is the “diamond rule”, which has two parts: “Do unto yourself as you deserve to be treated”, and “Do unto others as they deserve to be treated.” This is a critical one for adolescent girls who tend to have a ton of negative self-talk and who have a hard time maintaining their confidence within the toxic environments of school and social media. Girls tend to set boundaries directly in proportion to how deserving they feel they are; if they feel good about themselves, they take great care of themselves. If a girl lacks self-confidence and self-worth, they put up with disrespect and abuse.
The challenge for girls is this: you are always teaching people how to treat you by how you treat yourself. If you state your opinion and needs, set firm boundaries, ask for help or nurturing when needed, and are willing to receive love and support, then you have taught people that you deserve and demand the best from them. The opposite is also true.
It is also a tremendous gift to friends when you treat them as if they deserve the best even if they don’t believe it yet. Holding a higher vision of someone at a time when they are unable to can inspire them to change the way they see and treat themselves. Hopefully, eventually, they can internalize their value on their own.
So try treating people the way that they like to be treated. Treat yourself with the highest regard in order to teach people in your life how to treat you. And treat everyone as though they deserved the very best in order to inspire them to their fullest. Go way beyond the golden rule to a higher level of love and understanding.