Do We Need To Question The Golden Rule?

Here is another slightly edited excerpt from the archives of the Weekly Ethics Thought. It generated a fair bit of discussion over there at the time it was published and I thought it might be worth revisiting here at the Ethics Nexus site. Thoughts?

“If you are looking for an ideal, if general, guideline for behavior, it’s tough to go wrong with the Golden Rule. Surely we are all wise to treat others in the same ways in which we would wish to be treated ourselves.

However, suppose the ways in which you wish to be treated are based on inadequate insight into your personal or organizational needs? In other words, if you leave others alone because of wishing to be left alone yourself, might that lead to inadequate feedback or oversight of any number of varieties? If you ‘cut others slack’ because of wishing the same for yourself, is there a risk of contributing to a culture where accountability is undervalued? What if someone models and ‘signals’ a wish to be left alone due to their need to cover up some type of fraud perpetration? These are all, obviously, issues that lead to serious ethics problems time and time again.

Does this mean that we need to throw out the golden rule? Absolutely not! However, there is some unnerving potential for it to be used in a destructive manner unless we make it a point to pay close attention to our behavior – both as individuals or as organizations – to be sure it is being used to promote integrity and not, however unintentionally, to compromise it.”

(copyright 2006 by Christopher Bauer and Bauer Ethics Seminars – all rights reserved)

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