Hypocrisies of the Golden Rule

The world is full of hypocrites. I'm not talking about the occasional hypocrite. Everyone has a hypocritical moment now and then. It's usually when emotions run high, or when there's an open bar. I'm talking about the people who are hypocritical in their most casual day to day interactions. I'm talking about serial hypocrites.

Most serial hypocrites are unaware of their own hypocrisies. They don't spend a lot of time thinking about what they say or how they act. And they certainly don't spend time thinking about how the things they say and the things they do may not quite match up.

The biggest serial hypocrites tend to be those who tout the Golden Rule. This ancient principle has been around for centuries. The idea behind it is mentioned in the Bible and many other holy books. Most major world religions promote some form of the Golden Rule, though it is in no way a spiritual concept. In simple terms, the Golden Rule merely states that you should treat others the way you want to be treated.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. That's a great idea. You can see why a lot of people would jump on board. Not everyone, of course. There are always those who hear the Golden Rule and say, "Nah, other people don't deserve to be treated the way I want to be treated."

These people want to be treated better than other people. It's easy to scorn these people, in theory, but they often earn our grudging respect. Why? Because they may be selfish, but they are also honest. There are a lot more people who claim to follow the Golden Rule, but never stop to think about what that means in daily life.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Such a simple idea, in theory.

If you claim to follow the Golden Rule, here are just a few behaviors that don't fit your claim. If you regularly do any of them, you might be a serial hypocrite.

1. Make snide comments and pass them off as jokes.

Sarcasm and satire have their place, but veiling criticism behind a snide comment isn't funny. If someone says they like cheesecake and you reply, "Oh I can see that! ha ha" -- it's not funny.

1-a. Tell someone they are "too sensitive" or that they "can't take a joke".

This goes with the first point, but can also stand alone. If someone tells you that something you said offended them, apologize. Sincerely. Whether you intended to or not, you offended them.

2. Steal. Anything, any time.

A lot of people who claim to follow the Golden Rule also claim to believe thou shalt not steal. They just don't extend that to include things like "borrowing without asking," burning copies of CDs to share with friends, or using "creative accounting" on their income taxes. If you're trying to get something for nothing, there's a good chance you're stealing. Someone, somewhere, always ends up paying for whatever it is you got for free.

3. Question another person's lifestyle with the intent of converting him or her.

Someone you know is different than you. You bike 42 miles a day and his idea of exercise is walking up the escalator. You think it tastes great; she thinks it's less filling. Friendly debates and group interventions aside, learn to live and let live. Other people are capable of forming their own belief systems and--even if they are different than your own--you do not have the right to judge them.

4. Make more work for other people.

Yes, the grocery store employs someone to gather the shopping carts from the parking lot. But if they also have a cart corral, use it. Don't leave your cart wedged between two cars or on the grassy median. And don't haphazardly shove your cart into the corral, either. You know how shopping carts nest together. Take 20 extra seconds to do it properly.

I could toss out examples all day, but I think you see where I'm going with all this. The economy is tanking, the country is at war, the environment is choking, health care is in crisis, and reality TV is here to stay. There are a lot of opinions about what started it all, but I think it goes back to the littlest decisions each person makes in his or her daily life.

If more people believed in--and actually followed--the Golden Rule, the world could be a very different place.


  1. Hi there, I am not sure if you answer questions and such, but I thought I might ask. I am on a search. I have been told by more than one atheist that there is no need to have religion to have morals. That you can have morals without it. But when I ask for them how they developed their beliefs (often the golden rule), they have no evidence. I find this odd that religion requires evidence to be true, but the golden rule doesn't need evidence. I tried to point out that believing in the golden rule, we can see that you may treat others nicely, but not get treated nicely back. If anything, the golden rule is a sort of social contract.

    So my question is, do you know of any study, or actual evidence, that shows that the Golden Rule is more than just a myth?

    1. I've looked at your comment a few times, but I'm honestly puzzled about what you want to know. Your comment seems to be mixing up a lot of different concepts: philosophy, belief, religion, evidence, myth, morality.

      Like the other atheists you've mentioned, I would also tell you that one can have morals (be a "good" person) without religion. But I would add that "good" behavior comes from principles based on empathy, not from religion or any specific rules (even the golden rule).

      I may be off the mark, but you might want to try reading Dan Barker's book Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong. It's a short book for children, but it covers the basics of living by principles instead of rules--which may be a good starting place for sorting out why empathy (i.e. the Golden Rule) may be a better guideline than using religious doctrine to define morals.