I’ve been struggling with an interesting social phenomenon lately that is as predictable as it is harmful. In my opinion, it boils down to a misunderstanding of the Golden Rule.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

 — The Golden Rule

Humans have some needs which are natural and universal. We need food, water, shelter, and clothing. When one of these is needed, assistance for achieving those needs are fairly universal, putting aside the effects of Pride.

Others are less tangible and may depend heavily on personal desires, culture, and values. A better rule when dealing with these types of needs is to treat others how they would like to be treated.

The higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the item is, the more the need can vary on a per-person basis.

A great example of the dynamic I am talking about is when it comes to the appropriate treatment of people who you are attracted to. Each of us can be looking for something distinct. Some are looking for sex, others intimacy, and still others are looking for a partnership or family.

If two consenting adults are interested in just sex, that is a choice they are able to make together. When two adults have different needs, then each person should either treat the other person in the manner that they wish to be treated.

Sending a racy photo can be an intimate experience for someone who is interested, or it can be an unwelcome reminder of past trauma.

The same applies to other areas of life as well. I recently ended a business relationship with a customer due to their insistence on sending unsolicited e-mail to people in order to advertise his new project. Seemingly to make it up to me, he included me on his next marketing e-mail, calling out my business as someone who helped him.

From his perspective, he was doing me a favor. From my perspective, he was implying to a potential customer base that I condone spamming. Treating me with respect would require understanding my perspective on the topic, and taking it into account. Instead, he did for me what he would like someone to do for me, violating my own personal ethos.

He upheld the letter of the Golden Rule while disregarding its intention.