The Boomerang Effect of the Golden Rule

We all know about the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s one of the first lessons children are taught—you don’t want to get teeth marks on your arm, then don’t bite! You hope Joanie will share her snack with you, offer her a taste of your own. It’s a good rule.


Alas, as our lives progress, we have a tendency to forget the more subtle implications of this adage: in order to have friends, you need to be friendly. You must carve out the time and expend the effort necessary to cultivate and maintain friendships. If you hope someone will give you the benefit of the doubt, you need to demonstrate this first. Ironically, emotional generosity is one of the foremost qualities that get lost in intimate relationships.  If you say you believe in patience and compassion, you need to practice this with your most irritating relatives. The flipside of good qualities is equally powerful: if we perceive the world as a place filled with untrustworthy reprobates, it’s likely that this is how we’ll be treated by others. People tune in to our radio signals. Our transmission towers never go on the blink.


All too often, we try hiding our true feelings. We tell ourselves how much less complicated life is when people don’t know the full story. The idea of being seen renders us vulnerable and that can be a frightening prospect. Except they do see us, no matter how hard we try to distract them from such scrutiny.


A person I know and care about has been in an unhappy marriage for years—it’s a lot like a toad in boiling water. Except they are so terrified of acknowledging their unhappiness that they choose to do everything possible to wall out reality. If they don’t admit it, it isn’t real; and if it isn’t real, then they don’t have to do anything about it. But with each, additional layer of brick—fortifications that include walling me out–their unhappiness becomes more and more apparent. They tell themselves this internal struggle is something nobody sees and, in their desperation to cover it up, they cut themselves off from any connection that might jeopardize this fortress.


Recently, I was chatting with a friend who offered up the observation that while I had made great progress on “removing a heavy mantle of anxiety and distress,” there were a few more layers I could afford to shed. And he’s right. How did it make me feel to hear his gently given but accurate observations? Vulnerable. Seen. Aware of how ineffective all my distracting charms actually are. Anxious about how much work I still have to do given that my issues are “so obvious.” Despairing if I’ll ever manage to reach a place in my life and my psyche where I no longer carry these burdens.


Am I glad he said it? Yes. Do I know what to do about removing those additional layers? Not really, but I take encouragement from the fact that he sees I’ve managed to shed that heavy outer shell.


I’ve tried to make a couple of points in this post: #1 As effective at smoke and mirrors as we tell ourselves we are, people generally see a lot more about us than we realize; #2 it’s not bad to be vulnerable—it makes us approachable and sympathetic; and #3 the boomerang effect of the Golden Rule is a lot more powerful than we’d like to think, so be careful what you put out in this world since it will be seen, felt, and returned to sender.


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One Response to “The Boomerang Effect of the Golden Rule”

  1. grasshopper Says:

    Great post!

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