It is certain that, whatever be the reason, most men have a very strong and active prejudice in favour of their own vocation” - Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No.9
I’m not quick to quibble the word of God, but recent adjustments to my cultural milieu are suggesting that the adage of “do(ing) to others as you would have them do to you” is as well-intentioned and misguided an approach as Kevin Costner’s three-wood on the final hole of Tin Cup.
Unlike wooly mammoths in blocks of ice, adages are not preserved accidentally. Instead they tend to be polished and bequeathed from one generation to the next in the manner of grandma’s silver teapot. Like that teapot, I can conceive that the golden rule has been put to great use in the past. Homogenous societies (e.g. Sweden in the nineteen-nineties) seem obvious breeding grounds for homogenous tastes and expectations. In places like this, what’s good for the Sven is good for the Svenja.
In the twenty-first century there is nothing general about general populations, and hopes and expectations vary so greatly between different people that a walk down the street on collection day provides empirical proof that one man’s treasure is another’s trash.
I have been reflecting on this subject as the results of the once blossoming, and now wilting relationship with my street corner watermelon dealer, who also trades in pickled pigs’ feet. For the uninitiated, these are exactly what they sound like. They float in large glass jars and would not look out of place in the laboratory of a mad scientist.
My watermelon dealer genuinely finds them delicious, and chain sucks them. My insatiable appetite for watermelons has led him to view me as more than a customer, and he is forever trying to fling a free trotter my way. Here the golden rule has led us to an impasse. From his point of view, kindness is a free pickled pigs foot. From my perspective they are an abomination to the human mouth. This has led to something of a standoff, where he has stopped waving trotters at me from across the street, and I have stopped eating watermelons.
I suggest that the golden rule is best applied in its negative form and to strangers. We should not do things to other people that we wouldn’t like done to ourselves. This will help most drivers choose the correct course of action when deciding whether to mow down a slow pedestrian.
In its positive sense however, when deciding what we should do for another person, it seems the only way of avoiding solipsism is to somehow figure out what the other person would want done for them and try to do that. Anything less dooms us to forever feel as slighted as the cat that plops a mangled bird on its owner’s carpet.
Therefore I propose an update to the golden rule, in the language of the King James Version. From now on we should ‘do unto others that which they would like done unto them’. This will require compassion, communication, empathy, careful deduction and sacrifice. In short, I have to eat a pickled pig’s foot.
 Luke 6:31 NIV
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