The Guilded Cage of the Golden Rule

So, I notice that almost everyone has this self-image that they are good. They do their best. They’re fair and reasonably nice. They follow the golden rule for the most part, sort of. Y’know, like everybody.

And yet I find myself really drawn to certain groups and they’re groups of outcasts. Not outcasts. Not groups. Groups of outcasts. And I feel WEIRD around people who haven’t hung around groups of outcasts very much. I find them difficult to talk to and awkward. Because every time I mention being different from them (in any number of ways: poorer, feminist, theater kid, mom, Halloween) they suddenly get very nervous. Or defensive. Or both. And suddenly things get… awkward. This sometimes happens with folks who aren’t really group savvy, but it happens a lot less with people who are used to hanging out with diverse groups.

Know why? Because everybody wants to be a good person.

Good people follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a great rule, echoed in almost all the major religions. And when you are with a group of people who are largely like yourself, with the same needs, the same language and culture, the same concerns and life experience, YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO. Because the golden rule really works. You give those people what you would like to be given and you are polite to them the way you would recognize as polite and everyone is happy and rather likes you.

But what if those people are not like you? What if their lives are completely outside your experience? What if they need things or have concerns that you have never fathomed? What if you are all polite and golden ruley and it all goes wrong. What if you are a bad person who can’t treat people right, who doesn’t even know HOW. What if you are bad at being good to people because they are so different from you?

And this is the terror I see on people’s faces who are not used to groups of outcasts. Outcasts that are to the manor born of weird have always been obliged to recognize that other people are not like them, and they must navigate the world with that burdensome awareness or risk peril. They have to find a way to muddle through, and some of them gather in groups and learn that EVERYONE has a weird. Everyone is strange and alone in their own skin. The nouveau weird do not necessarily have this as a standard deviation in their lives and believe that they may be the only ones who carry this very human burden.

But if you’ve spent your whole life mostly with homogenous groups, you may have never realized that other people are all separate and different from you. And different people present this horrible threat. “You may NOT be a good person” they seem to say. “You may NEVER be able to be a good person. These different folks could take that away from you and never give it back.” For if you can’t use yourself and what you would like as the measure of how to treat people, what fucking determines it? Are all attempts to be good meritless and indefensible at someone else’s random whim? Is there no order in the universe??

When you hang around groups of outcasts, you realize you need to learn what everyone needs before you can treat them right. You need to hear their experience, use your imagination, take other perspectives, and never quite be confident that your good intentions are translating to the other person. You kinda get used to it. And you stop thinking you can achieve being good to people just because you treat them the way you want to be treated. You start thinking about ethics instead of rules. You start thinking about kindness instead of etiquette. You start talking about your judgments as being small things from a certain place where you are. Which is distinctly not a perspective anywhere akin God.

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