The Diamond Rule

We all know the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  TED Prize Wish winner, Karen Armstrong, even laudably proposed that a Charter for Compassion based on the observation that all three Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) have the Golden Rule at their core.

I do believe that if we all followed the Golden Rule as the basis for how we treat one another the world would be a better place.  But I also think there is a a more fundamental rule, call it the Diamond Rule, which is even better:

Treat others as you believe they would want you to treat them, if they knew everything that you did.

The difference is subtle, and may not practically speaking yield different action that often.  But when it does, the difference can be significant.

  • Tiltmom

    I don’t think the difference is subtle at all. I think it’s dramatic and important. Penn wrote in his book _Sock_ that he thinks the Golden Rule is insane and evil. I won’t go that far, but I do think the example he gives is a good one.

  • Alex Golubev

    I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. it implies a bit much confidence in my own knowledge. I prefer to not treat others as they don’t want to be treated. All these proverbs are too simplistic anyways. For every proverb there’s one that says the exact opposite (now don’t go and steal my book idea :) ). Doesn’t the diamond rule justify imposing your own religion on people, since you know they’re gonna go to hell otherwise?

  • From my Facebook comments:

    Daniel Gavaldón at 9:32am July 15
    Interesting thought. However, in a good many cases this would be a matter of insulting the OTHER persons’ intelligence…

    Rafe Furst at 10:47am July 15
    not really. the “if they knew everything” is more of a Rawlsian “initial position” than a paternalistic stance. nobody can truly put themselves in another person’s shoes. the maxim is a device to help you do better on that front though, to see them in a more objective light. in other words, you and i are different, have different wants and … Read More

    Daniel Gavaldón at 11:30am July 15
    OK. Perhaps the difference/problem is with the English original above. As you may know, most OTHER languages have TWO verbs/concepts for ‘to know’. One implies a grasp of a lot of factual knowledge, the other a deeper more extensive acquaintance. Thus I could interpret ‘the diamond rule’ (as expressed in English) in 2 very different ways: one a compassionate understanding, etc., the other almost bordering on the patronizing…

  • Alex Golubev

    no accident that a proverb discussion ends in semantics. i implied that “know” can be faith based as well. Hindsight rationalization is one type of “know”. Scientific method is another. I suspect that using religious acceptance of the Golden Rule as an argument opens the door for the faith based definition and that’s precisely why i’d prefer for others to not make any assumptions about my preferences. :) There’s really not much to argue about. I’m sure we know what you mean, but are arguing whether it can be communicated in a single sentence. Of course we can also argue whether it SHOULD EVER be communicated in a single sentence given the history of religious overconfidence.

  • I don’t like your wording at all! First, I hate the word “believe.” According to your wording, someone who “knows god” and believes that sinners should be killed would be justified in killing them.

    Also, you are assuming that others don’t know facts that you don’t know.

  • danielhorowitz

    Your rule breaks the cardinal rule of rules: The rule should be easy to understand.

  • The beautiful irony of all this pedantry is that such rules are unnecessary for the pedant: you all have the empathic skills and moral fortitude to do right by others, which I have no doubt that you exercise continuously.

    For those who “need” the rules, society would be lucky if such people could even approximate the Golden Rule most of the time, let alone grasp the difference between that and the Diamond Rule (let alone, execute that difference).

    You may say it’s therefore silly to even propose such a thing as the Diamond Rule. But I do believe that if there is a beacon to aim for way out on the horizon, it should at least be the right one. And if you are going to trash the existing beacon as Penn does, it would be irresponsible to not try to replace it with something better.

    To those who criticize my word choices (Alex, Andy, Daniel), please offer an alternative. You KNOW what the intent of the Diamond Rule is, and you KNOW that if people follow the intent correctly, it would be a good thing. So what’s correct way to convey that.

  • Alex Golubev

    I don’t think we can convey this to everyone. I told you that i prefer: “don’t treat others as you wouldn’t want to be treated”. Even this weaker version can and will be misinterpreted and thus opened up to abuse, because while noone wants to be killed, one could create an afterlife reason for wanting to die.

    Now the irony you mention seems to suggest that we should stay away from these proverbs, because you either get it or you don’t and if you don’t then there’s a high likelihood that your end up being the executioner.

    Besides, i’ll gladly drive a bus through an innocent person to save two. But not at all times :) i think the best one liner would be to communicate that issues are much more complicated and two sided than any proverb or one sided article/book/movie/speech/party could ever suggest.

  • @Alex, I agree with you that the most poignant aphorism in this realm is the one from Einstein about models that also applies to aphorisms: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    The meta-irony that I just discovered in searching for this is that the aphorism is a massive simplification of what Einstein actually said!

    It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.

  • Alex Golubev

    HA! How appropriate! Now i’m afraid to google e=mc2

  • I think most people understand that the Golden Rule should be followed in spirit, rather than to the letter. The more conditions and qualifications you add to it, the weaker its spirit becomes.

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