Reimagining the Golden Rule

Whether being taught as children or doing the teaching to kids or grandkids, we’ve all encountered the Golden Rule of relationships:

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

This is a simple and straightforward way of explaining that we need to respect and be kind to one another, whether that is sharing our toys or being courteous with the driver in front of us. The aspect of today’s society that is missing from this rule is the idea of individuality. Not everyone will react to the same stimuli in the same way that you do. So not only should we be respectful and kind, but we need to recognize our fellow humans as the individuals they are.

Dr. Donna Hicks of Harvard University has tackled this concept through her book Dignity and her Declare Dignity project. She uses the phrase

What we extend to others and would like for ourselves.

To further define “dignity,” Dr. Hicks outlines ten essential elements that make up this concept. These are: acceptance of identity, recognition, acknowledgement, inclusion, safety, fairness, independence, understanding, benefit of the doubt, and accountability. Find her full explanation HERE.

Every relationship or interaction that we encounter can benefit from even a small measure of these elements. Just the idea of accepting that people are individuals and should be treated as such will improve relationships from those of manager/employee to husband/wife to barista/customer. Taking a hard, honest review of our skills and relationships will probably show room for improvement in one or more areas.

Maybe you’ve been in relationships where trust has eroded and it is difficult for you to give people the benefit of the doubt. Admitting and owning up to this can be the start of improving existing relationships. Perhaps your stage of life has kept you from fully acknowledging the people around you. Work is requiring constant email monitoring and phone calls, preventing you from truly listening to your children. Realizing this deficiency can create healthier relationships with those individuals, and leave you open to making strides with coworkers, clients, and others.

Dr. Hicks’ Declare Dignity project uses the tagline

We might not be able to change the world, but we can create a more respectful way of being in it together.

This recognizes that the world we live in has many divisions, opinions and conflicts. We don’t have to agree with everyone, or even like everyone, but we can all make a difference by practicing the elements of dignity and treating one another as the valuable creatures that we are. Management styles may differ, friendships may evolve over time, and countries may have different versions of the same story, but each of us can do our part to create a more positive environment by treating people with dignity.

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