Golden Rule

The Golden Rule, rooted in core values like empathy and fairness, has a rich historical background found in religious teachings and philosophical thought. Universally accepted, it finds applications in relationships, conflict resolution, business ethics, and social justice. It shapes morality by promoting empathy and ethical choices for cohesive and respectful communities.

The Essence of the Golden Rule

The essence of the Golden Rule lies in the idea of reciprocity—treating others in the same way we wish to be treated. This simple yet profound principle calls upon individuals to consider the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others when making decisions or taking actions. It encourages empathy, compassion, and fairness in human interactions.

The most common formulation of the Golden Rule is found in the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew 7:12 (NIV): “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In a similar vein, the Gospel of Luke 6:31 (NIV) states, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Origins and Antiquity

While the term “Golden Rule” is most often associated with Judeo-Christian traditions, the concept predates these religions by centuries. It can be traced back to ancient civilizations and philosophical traditions around the world.

1. Ancient Egypt (ca. 2040-1650 BCE)

  • One of the earliest recorded expressions of the Golden Rule can be found in ancient Egyptian writings known as the “Eloquent Peasant.” The text, dating back to the Middle Kingdom period, includes a story in which a peasant named Khunanup advises a nobleman to “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.”

2. Ancient China (ca. 5th century BCE)

  • Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, is often associated with a similar principle of reciprocity. In Confucianism, the concept of “shu” or “rectification of names” emphasizes the importance of treating others as one would wish to be treated.

3. Ancient Greece (ca. 5th century BCE)

  • The Greek philosopher Thales is credited with a version of the Golden Rule: “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”

4. Hinduism (ca. 6th century BCE)

  • The Hindu scriptures, particularly the Mahabharata, contain passages that convey the essence of the Golden Rule. One famous line from the Mahabharata states, “One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.”

5. Judaism (ca. 6th century BCE)

  • The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, contains a verse in the Book of Leviticus (19:18) that is often cited as a precursor to the Golden Rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Golden Rule in World Religions

The Golden Rule is a common thread that runs through many of the world’s major religions, illustrating its widespread acceptance and significance in matters of ethics and morality.

1. Christianity

  • As mentioned earlier, the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament emphasize the Golden Rule as a central ethical principle. It underscores the importance of love, compassion, and forgiveness in Christian morality.

2. Islam

  • In Islam, the Golden Rule aligns with the concept of “Ihsan,” which encourages Muslims to do good and act kindly toward others. The Quran contains verses that emphasize compassion and doing to others what one would want for themselves.

3. Buddhism

  • Buddhism’s teachings promote empathy, compassion, and non-harming. The principle of reciprocity aligns with the Buddha’s guidance to “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

4. Sikhism

  • Sikhism incorporates the Golden Rule into its ethical framework. Sikhs are encouraged to “treat others as you would be treated” and to practice kindness, humility, and selflessness.

5. Jainism

  • Jainism, an ancient Indian religion, places great importance on non-violence (ahimsa) and treating all living beings with respect and compassion. The Golden Rule aligns with the Jain principle of “Live and let live.”

6. Bahá’í Faith

  • The Bahá’í Faith embraces the Golden Rule as a fundamental principle of its teachings. Bahá’ís are called to “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.”

Interpretations and Variations

While the core message of the Golden Rule remains consistent, its interpretations and variations have emerged over time and across cultures. These interpretations reflect the adaptability and universality of the principle:

1. Positive and Negative Forms

  • The Golden Rule can be expressed in both positive and negative forms. The positive form encourages actions like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” while the negative form advises against actions like “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” Both forms reinforce the principle of reciprocity.

2. Categorical Imperative (Kantian Ethics)

  • Immanuel Kant, a philosopher of the Enlightenment era, formulated a similar moral principle known as the categorical imperative. It states, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Kant’s version emphasizes the universality of moral principles.

3. Ethic of Care

  • In contrast to the Golden Rule’s focus on reciprocity, the ethic of care emphasizes empathy, compassion, and attending to the unique needs of individuals. While related, the ethic of care goes beyond mere reciprocity to consider the emotional and relational aspects of ethics.

Moral Implications

The Golden Rule serves as a moral compass that guides individuals and societies toward ethical behavior and decision-making. Its moral implications are profound:

1. Empathy and Compassion

  • Practicing the Golden Rule fosters empathy and compassion, allowing individuals to connect with the experiences and suffering of others. This leads to a more caring and considerate society.

2. Conflict Resolution

  • The principle of reciprocity is instrumental in resolving conflicts and disputes. By considering how one’s actions affect others, individuals can seek peaceful and mutually beneficial resolutions.

3. Respect for Diversity

  • Embracing the Golden Rule promotes respect for diversity and cultural differences. It encourages individuals to treat others with respect, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.

4. Human Rights

  • The Golden Rule underpins many principles of human rights and social justice. It advocates for fairness, dignity, and equality for all individuals.

Relevance in the Modern World

In today’s increasingly interconnected and diverse world, the Golden Rule remains as relevant as ever. It serves as a foundational principle for addressing contemporary ethical and moral challenges:

1. Global Citizenship

  • The Golden Rule resonates with the concept of global citizenship, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all people and the responsibility to treat one another with kindness and respect.

2. Social Justice

  • Movements for social justice and equality often draw upon the principles of the Golden Rule. Advocates seek to address systemic injustices and promote fairness for marginalized communities.

3. Environmental Ethics

  • Environmental ethics can also be informed by the Golden Rule. It encourages individuals to consider the impact of their actions on the environment and future generations.

4. Interfaith Dialogue

  • The Golden Rule serves as a common ground for interfaith dialogue and understanding. It highlights shared values of compassion and ethical behavior across religious traditions.

Criticisms and Challenges

While the Golden Rule is widely celebrated, it is not without its criticisms and challenges:

1. Cultural Variations

  • Critics argue that the Golden Rule may not be universally applicable due to cultural differences in values and norms. What one person considers respectful behavior may differ from another’s perspective.

2. Complex Moral Dilemmas

  • In complex moral dilemmas, adhering strictly to the Golden Rule may not provide clear guidance. Situations that involve competing ethical principles may require nuanced decision-making.

3. Empathy and Bias

  • Some individuals may struggle to empathize with those who are different from them, leading to biases and discriminatory behavior. Overcoming these biases is a challenge for the effective application of the Golden Rule.


The Golden Rule, with its roots in antiquity and its presence in diverse cultures and religions, stands as a timeless and universal principle of ethics and morality. It embodies the essence of reciprocity, empathy, and compassion, guiding individuals and societies toward more ethical and just behavior. In an ever-changing world, the Golden Rule continues to be a beacon of moral guidance, reminding us of our shared humanity and the importance of treating others with kindness and respect. As we navigate complex moral challenges, the Golden Rule serves as a reminder that our actions and decisions should reflect the values of empathy and fairness, fostering a more compassionate and harmonious world for all.

Key Highlights

  • Concept: The Golden Rule is founded on values like empathy and fairness, advocating treating others as one wishes to be treated.
  • Core Values:
    • Rooted in empathy, compassion, kindness, and fairness.
    • Encourages individuals to extend to others the treatment they desire for themselves.
  • Historical Background:
    • Present in religious and philosophical teachings across cultures.
    • Traced back to ancient civilizations like Egypt, Greece, and China.
    • Coined as the “Golden Rule” by theologian Richard Hooker in the 16th century.
  • Universality and Adaptation:
    • Universal principle found in major religions like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, etc.
    • Adapted to various cultural contexts.
  • Applications:
    • Guides interpersonal relationships based on respect and empathy.
    • Promotes cooperation and understanding in conflict resolution.
    • Applied in business ethics for fair treatment of stakeholders.
    • Acts as a moral compass for social justice and advocating equality.
  • Influence on Morality:
    • Fosters empathy, compassion, and cohesion in societies.
    • Provides an ethical framework for decision-making, considering others’ well-being.
    • Promotes trust and cooperation among individuals and communities.
  • Criticisms and Limitations:
    • Might not cover all complexities of moral dilemmas.
    • Cultural and individual differences can influence interpretations and applications.
  • Contemporary Relevance:
    • Gains importance in a globalized world for fostering tolerance among diverse cultures.
    • Relevant in addressing modern challenges like inequality and environmental concerns.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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