The “Golden Rule”

Main Piece:

B: The golden rule is like “treat others the way you want to be treated,” so that’s the golden rule.

Me: How did you first learn about it?

B: So basically, during soccer, this kid bumped into another kid, because he was trying to get the ball from him. But the other kid- who got bumped into- thought it was on purpose, and he thought the other kid was trying to hurt him or something- so he like- he thought it was on purpose so he tackled him. And then a teacher- she saw it so she came over and she said, “Don’t do that anymore,” and then after we went inside, the principal went to every classroom and said, “Treat others how you want to be treated. If you treat somebody good then they will treat you good back.” So that’s the whole story.


My informant is my cousin’s 10-year-old son, who is in the fourth grade. He lives in a suburban neighborhood near Des Moines, which is the capital of Iowa. He goes to a public elementary school in his district, which is where this soccer incident happened. At the time, he was in the 1st grade, and the lesson from it still stays with him today. He tells me that believes in the golden rule, and has applied it in his own life to resolve issues between friends. He explains that every year, he and his friends have a nerf war that involved building forts. Each time, his friends would get into an argument about where and how to build the forts. He tells me that one year, he was tired of them fighting and told them the golden rule, which made them stop, and in his words, “hear each other out.”


This is a transcript of our conversation over the phone. Lately, he has been telling me stories about what goes on during school, though this conversation was prompted specifically for this collection project. I was curious about what he learned the “golden rule” to be.


I remember learning about the “golden rule” when I was also in elementary school, though it came from another child on the playground. Often, it was said in an instance where someone was being mean to another person. Hence, it was used as a sort of chiding for bad behavior. It was interesting to find out that my cousin’s son understood and believed the rule to be “treat others how you want to be treated,” as it was relayed to him by teachers, and to also continue the lesson to his friends since another variation I learned from other students was “do unto others how they have done to you,” as a way of justifying revenge. Because the “golden rule” is so ubiquitous, the choice of what its definition is can be very telling of what principle or virtue is valued. In my cousin’s son’s case, kindness is most important.