“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you . . .” – Matthew 7:12
The Golden Rule is almost universally accepted as the ideal for how we should live and treat others. There was a time, in fact, I thought modeling the Golden Rule was the magic formula for effective leadership (as if I had been the first one to ever think of that). While it’s a good idea and certainly one of the essential ingredients in good leadership, I quickly discovered that expecting the Golden Rule to be the ONLY ingredient necessary for effective leadership led to disappointing results. Why? As much as the Golden Rule seems to be an easy concept, it is difficult to follow.
What took me a long time to figure out is that there are two sides to the Golden Rule. One is the obvious, that is treating others as we would have them treat us. The other has to do with how we, and others, respond to such treatment. That’s where the disappointing results occur when the one receiving the gracious and generous treatment does not respond by appreciating, reciprocating, or imitating.
One of the parables of Jesus describes a servant who owed his king an enormous sum of money. About to be thrown into prison for defaulting on the debt the servant begged for mercy, for which the king out of pity graciously cancelled the servant’s debt. “But when that servant went out,” scripture says, “he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii” (a small fraction of what he had owed the king), and unlike the king he refused to forgive the fellow servant his debt and had him thrown into prison. (Ref. Matthew 18:23-35) Here is an example of someone who was the recipient of the Golden Rule, yet when the opportunity arose to imitate, did just the opposite.
Haven’t we all been disappointed or hurt by the lack of response we received from following the Golden Rule. But how many times have we failed – or refused like the ungrateful servant – to respond in the same way? The Golden Rule is the ideal for how we should live and treat others, but it is effective only when we treat others according to it, AND respond when treated likewise.