Sunday, 29 January 2012

Why the golden rule can be a bad thing

We all learn the "golden rule" when we are young: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It seems a perfectly good rule to live by, one that should bring peace and happiness to your life and the lives of those around you.

But sometimes, it is the wrong thing. The completely wrong thing.

I heard a story the other day that illustrated why, in marriage, the golden rule should not apply. It had to do with french fries. If you like french fries, you know that there are a hundred different types out there - thin and thick and baked and deep fried and salted and plain. Every restaurant has their own type, every store bought brand has many varieties, and even when you make them at home you've got lots of options.

There once was a woman who loved super crispy fries. But she loved her husband so much that every time they had french fries she gave him all the super crispy ones, a selfless act of sacrificial love. The thing is, her husband really loved his french fries more soggy. But every time they had french fries he allowed his wife to give him the crispy ones and selflessly let his wife take the soggy ones. It was several years before the couple found out the truth about their mate's preference in french fries, and luckily they were able to laugh about their breakdown in communication (and from that day forward enjoy their own favourite kind of fries.)

French fries are admittedly a small matter in marriage. But apply this story on a larger level and you can see where trouble could brew. Let's say, after an argument, the woman really wants to sit and talk it out until the wee hours of the morning. But her husband needs a 24 hour cooling off period. If they applied the golden rule, "do unto others as you would have others do unto you," then because the wife would try to sit down with the husband and force him to talk immediately, because that's what she wishes would be "done unto her." And the husband would graciously give his wife space for 24 hours, because he feels he should "do unto her as he would have done unto himself."

The examples could go on and on. How a couple spends their time alone. How they deal with extended family issues. How often they invite people over. How they raise their children. How they approach their sex life.

In fact, selfless love in a marriage usually involves the opposite of the golden rule. It means open communication, finding out what your partner's needs, wants and desires are and then sacrificing how you would rather have things done in favour of doing it their way. Of course there is a give and take involved, times where you give and times where you receive. But I can certainly attest to (and I'm sure many of you can also) that the greatest happiness you will find in marriage is when you are not getting your "own way" but are instead doing something special for your spouse.

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