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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Three Rules

 The cornerstone of human civilization is our ability to work together. We are capable of complex communication with our languages, and we have the physical build to make and work with tools. What ties communication and tool-making together to make civilization possible is our sociability. It's no wonder then that going well back in human history, and present in belief systems that evolved separately, we find what we refer to as 'The Golden Rule. Expressed in Western terms, it is: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


 The principle is simple enough. Children readily understand the concept. Little Dion is told that if he doesn't like having his hair pulled, he shouldn't be doing that his kindergarten classmate Sally. If Sally likes it when people share their candy with her, then she should share hers with others as well. All very straightforward, except that it doesn't always hold true. That's why we need the Platinum Rule as well, which tells us to "do unto others as they would have you do unto them."


Shaniqua loves it when men hold the door for her. She considers it 'gentlemanly' and respectful. Anya, on the other hand, absolutely hates it. She feels as though she'd being coddled and pressed into a gender stereotype, and she doesn't like it. When Anya patiently tells a male co-worker that it bothers her how he always holds the door for her, he's annoyed. He suggests that she's overreacting, that his mother taught him manners, and points out that Shaniqua seems to have no problem with it. Inwardly, he decides she's 'being a bitch.' That reaction isn't fair, particularly since Anya has calmly stated her preference. She have him an opportunity to practice the Platinum Rule, and he failed. To be clear, this rule only works when someone has expressed a preference that might seem to some out of the norm. When someone's preference is unknown, we fall back onto the Golden Rule until told otherwise.

Sometimes, in certain circumstances, neither of those rules will be the best fit. And so we come to The Electrum Rule, summarized as 'Do unto others as their loved ones would have you do unto them.'


Emma loves her dad, Bill. He's always been there for her and has been a source of strength and encouragement for her and her siblings since they were born. Bill's a pretty all-around good guy. He was always a good neighbor, helping anyone out who needed it. He was part of the volunteer fire department in his town for years, until he realized his back wasn't what is used to be. He was always an attentive husband, right up until her death a year ago after a long battle with cancer. He's learning to make do on his own, and enjoys staying connect with people through social media. One day he posts out of the blue that 'illegal aliens' should be removed from the country and made to 'come back legally.' His post was set to public, and a firestorm of hate rains down on him. He's called a bigot and told he's an ignorant buffoon for thinking that there's any way an average person from Central America could ever get a visa without extraordinary circumstances. Those were the nice comments.

Seeing this, Emma is upset. She knows her dad, and remembers how upset he was when she was little and the factory where he worked closed, being moved first to Mexico, and then later to China. He and his wife struggled for a time, but managed to start their own business. She imagines this must have something to do with his attitude, because he's always been friendly with everyone, including the time she dated a Puerto Rican boy in high school.

Tom sees the post and the ensuing shitshow. His first reaction is to want to pile on, but then he thinks about Bill, someone he's known since childhood, growing up across the street from him. He knows Emma and her siblings very well, and they've stayed in touch. In the intervening years he married an Argentinian woman while working in her country, and they have a family. Thinking about how Emma and her siblings must be taking the abuse being piled on, he decides to stop by Bill's house.

Bill is visibly agitated about what's happening online, and doesn't understand how what he said was racist or otherwise wrong. He's genuinely pleased to see Tom, though, and invites him in. They chat for a while, and Tom brings it around to the social media situation. He shared with Bill some issues he and his wife faced when they came from Argentina. She struggled with the language, culture shock, and homesickness. Bill's wife had kindly come over a few times to help her with the children, take her to the store, and even helped her learn to drive. He then explains how difficult it was to get the visa for his wife, even though they were married, and describes the complexity and near-impossibility of coming to America nowadays, unless you're a skilled professional. Bill gets it, and he never would have if it depended on the online haters. He had been very wrong, and now could see it.

This is an idealized situation. Most of the time it won't play out like this. And yet, sometimes when I see someone post that people of color and lgbtq+ folx in my denomination should not be 'so thin skinned,' decrying 'political correctness,' I think about how someone who loves that person would want them treated. Let them off the hook? Absolutely not. Respond with clarity, patience, and kindness? Certainly. Between love and hate there is room for friendly admonishment. Without it, the polarity, fear, and hate in our world will only grow.