Platinum Rule

Most people seem to think the Golden Rule is all we need: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Well, that would certainly be an improvement upon the more prevalent, “Do unto others before they do unto you,” but it doesn’t really help unless we exercise some subtlety and foresight.  It is probably a good thing to tell someone if they are behaving like an ass.  On the other hand, how keen are you to be the recipient of such honesty when it’s the truth?  Hmmm…

There’s also the problem of misapprehending other people’s intent — not to mention your own!  The most common cause of animosity is attribution of evil intent to someone who believes s/he is trying to do the right thing.

I propose a “Platinum Rule” that should be exercised even more assiduously than the Golden Rule.  It goes like this:

Try to understand why others think and act as they do.” 

Most people are sincerely trying to do what they perceive as the right thing.  If you can understand why they believe that, then you have a better foundation for constructive dialogue than if you accuse them of intentional evil.

Of course, intentional evil does occur; but even then it is easier to expose if you try to explore other explanations.  Nothing annoys a true evil-doer like a pointed question that assumes their innocence.

Note that I am not espousing “radical cultural relativism” — just because you understand why someone thinks and acts as they do does not mean you agree with or excuse their behaviour; it just gives you some purchase in your attempts to talk them out of it.

4 Commentsto Platinum Rule

  1. Dawn Rhema says:


  2. Sonia Elkes says:

    Nice! The “Platinum Rule”–because how to begin to know how to “treat others as you’d like to be treated”, if you have no idea where they are coming from?
    If Golden Rules were thermodynamics, this could be the 0th one.

  3. Hi Jess!
    Just an advice. I think you should give more hand-waving explanations of physics on Quora, but with a little more depth (keep it qualitative, but more depth). I know you like to express yourself and your creativity with all those short answers, and I like them too, but it would be nice if once in a while you answer some with great depth, while keeping it qualitative. :). It’s just that you have so much knowledge, and you can easily explain hard concepts without any math, and it would be a shame not to pass all that knowledge to us youngsters :).
    Love your answers! I wish you health and happiness!

    • Jess says:

      Thanks, Antonije — I do occasionally expound at length, usually right after re-enabling my account after a spell of “going dark” to escape temporarily from what is becoming a full-time job. But on the 50th Question of the day I start to get impatient, sarcastic and downright ornery. This has been a problem for several years now, but when Quora started the TOTALLY INSANE “QPP” program where they PAY people to submit as many Questions as possible, the resultant tsunami of moronic drivel prepared by ‘bots and worse has become a crippling challenge. I do know how to hit the “Pass” button, but the problem there is that the same Question might be either a “fake Question” submitted strictly for the QPP payoff or a sincere Question on a subtle and interesting topic written by someone appealing to Quora for a release from ignorance; I used to be more generous in my default assumptions, but now my attitude has been poisoned.

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