This I Believe: The Golden Disclaimer
The only rule to which there is no exception is the rule that there is an exception to every rule. This I believe.
I remember eagerly stuffing my backpack as I prepared for my first day of second grade at a new school. My father stopped me in my pint-sized attempt to jolt out the door in order to share with me a few words of wisdom. He said, “Remember to follow the Golden Rule: ‘Treat others the way that you want to be treated.’” As I entered the classroom, I saw the very same words my dad had shared with me earlier written on the chalkboard. An unpleasant looking woman stood at the front of the classroom. “Sit down, and be quiet!” she yelled at the class.
As I look back at this event—more than 10 years of knowledge accumulated since—I find it difficult to interpret the Golden Rule. I almost feel as if the chalkboard should have read: “Treat your classmates the way you want them to treat you, but don’t count on them treating you well because grade school cruelty is a stinker, and treat your teacher with respect no matter how she treats you; remember, she controls how many Ritz Crackers and how much juice you get at recess.” Did the fact that our teacher violated the Golden Rule by treating her class with disrespect give us the right to yell back at her?
The Golden Rule seems great in theory, especially in situations involving young, naïve children: Don’t hit unless you want to be hit. Don’t steal unless you want your things stolen. Don’t tease unless you want to be teased.
As we grow older and our minds expand to encompass the knowledge acquired from years of experience, the Golden Rule seems to lose its simplicity that made it so powerful in the past: Don’t invade other countries in hopes of forcing democracy onto an unwilling society unless you want your country invaded. Don’t photograph supermodels unless you’re willing to take off all clothes but your underwear after fasting for a month. And of course, don’t create a rule that contains so many exceptions unless you also create a disclaimer releasing you of all responsibility should the undersigned encounter an event where the rule does not result in the proper outcome.
Perhaps the title “The Golden Rule” is the problem. By inserting “golden” into the phrase, we are led to believe that the Golden Rule trumps all, no questions asked. But in reality, there will always be an exception. Perhaps a less intimidating name could ease the tension. Maybe “The Copper Rule” or “The Zinc Rule.” Or maybe just “Something to Keep in Mind.” This I believe.
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