“Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
From the time we’re in preschool all the way through adulthood, this is something we’ve been told over and over again. We’re taught that follwing this rule is how we show respect. That it’s how we become “good people.” That treating others the way we them to treat us is the “golden rule.”
But you know what? That’s not true.
Because when we treat people the way we want to be treated, we aren’t actually respecting them. We aren’t thinking about them. We’re thinking about ourselves and our needs, and only ourselves and our needs, and that’s a dangerous mindset to have.
When we treat others the way we want to be treated, we lose the ability to see past our own lives, to empathize with the people around us, and to recognize that everyone sees and feels things differently. We become so focused on our own idea of caring that we forget what it means to other people.
It’s great to want to support someone who’s having a hard time. But when you give them advice just because you like it when people give you advice, how much are you really helping? Even though your intentions are kind, intentions can only go so far, and the impact of your behavior goes much farther. Advice may be the last thing that that person wants to receive, and now you’ve unknowingly made things even harder for them.
Often times when people are upset, our default behavior is to treat them the way we would want to be treated if we were in their position. And sometimes, this works! But other times, it does nothing or even makes the situation worse. And then we wonder, “why is this person not appreciating my help? I’m trying so hard to make them feel better and it’s like they don’t even care!” But in these moments, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on your behavior. Are you helping this person in a way that is actually beneficial to them? Are you showing them that you care in a way that they will actually appreciate? Or are you just giving them a hug because you would want one, when in reality they need someone to talk to?
When we offer support to the people around us, it’s not about us. It’s not about how we want to be treated. It’s about them and what they need most in that moment. So it’s time we learn to treat people the way they want to be treated.
When we’ve been told to “treat people the way we want to be treated” for so long, it can be hard to change the way we think. To make it simpler, I like to compare it to shopping for a present. When you buy a birthday gift for a friend, you don’t pick out the thing that you want the most; you get something that that person would like. And yes, sometimes the shirt you thought they would love isn’t quite their style, or they actually prefer gummy bears when you were positive they liked chocolate more. But the important thing is that you tried your best to be thoughtful and choose a gift that your friend would want, even if it isn’t necessarily something you like yourself.
The way we treat people should be the same. Maybe your friend likes to be alone when they’re upset whereas you cheer up when people text you to check in. Well, the next time your friend is having a hard day, don’t send them 15 messages and get annoyed when they don’t reply. Recognize that your friend has a different way of coping than you do, and that’s perfectly fine! The best thing that you can do is support that friend in a way that they will appreciate. And if you don’t know what that is, just ask! Your concern is appreciated so much more if you ask someone “hey, what can I do to help you?” instead of just doing what you personally consider helpful.
We all have different needs and different ways in which we choose to meet those needs. And we may not understand each other’s needs all the time, but that’s okay! The important things is that we try our best to respect the needs of those around us, not only when we understand them but also when we don’t. So the next time you want to help a someone out or show them that you care, don’t look inward. Don’t tell them what you would want to hear. Because in that moment, it’s not about you; it’s about them and their needs.
So treat people the way they want to be treated.