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Posted by on Aug 21, 2014 in Business, Culture, Featured, Leadership, Recognition | 9 comments

Getting at the Gold in the Golden Rule

I’ve gotten to know the clerks at a certain convenience store in my neighborhood over the course of many years of visits. As I entered recently and made my way to the back coolers to grab a protein shake on the run, the clerk was fiddling with his cell phone behind the counter and did not look up. I called out to him as I passed, “Hi, Mike!” A muffled “hey” emanated from somewhere in Mike’s vicinity.

In rounding to Mike’s side of the counter from the back, I was amused to see posted to the pull side of the scratch ticket kiosk (and within full view of customers) a sign that read as follows:

  1. Greet each customer with a smile and welcome them as they enter.
  2. At check-out, ask “Will there be anything else?”
  3. Say “Thank you” and “Have a nice day.”

I raised an eyebrow in mock reproof and reached over the magazine rack, tapping the notice with my index finger. Mike looked up from checking his Facebook feed. “Oh, hey, man.” He seemed oblivious to the bold block lettering I had just drawn attention to a mere foot in front of his face. He rang my purchase. “You want a bag?” I said I didn’t need one. “All right, man, see ya,” murmured Mike. And just like that, he was lured back in by the siren song of incoming dings from his cell.

I stood for a moment staring at him with a quizzical smile. There were no other customers in the store at the moment, so I even allowed myself to laugh out loud. He looked up at me. “What’s so funny?”

“Well, Mike,” I pointed out still grinning, “if the checklist I see taped there in front of you is your goal, this was an epic FAIL. You’re 0 for 3.” I chuckled again.

“Oh,” he replied matter-of-factly, “that doesn’t apply to you, man. We failed our secret shopper thing last month, which means the boss didn’t get his bonus and neither did we. So he put that up. But I know you’re not a secret shopper, because you’re in here all the time.”

Stop. Consider.

To this young cashier, his line of thought made the utmost sense. In his mind, the dialog went something like this: “We need to smile at, greet and thank people who might get us a bonus. We do not need to do these things for people who can not get us more money.”

Before you judge poor Mike too quickly or place him into a category of which you do not deem yourself a subset, read on.

Truth is true, whether you agree with it or not. Kick and scream all you like. Truth – just is.

In the preface of my recently released book, The Best Advice So Far, I make an assertion: if something is true, it has always been true. It does not matter if you believe it or wish to practice it. Truth is true, whether you agree with it or not. Kick and scream all you like. Truth – just is.

Whether a quote is attributed to Mother Teresa, Confucius, Bill Gates or your mother, truth is true – regardless of who voiced it or what pages may or may not have recorded it. Certainly, one of the oldest and most well-known pieces of wisdom (i.e., truth about life) is what has come to be called the Golden Rule. Most of us would even claim that we live by the Golden Rule. Can you quote it? Take a moment now to test your recollection.

In that moment at the convenience store, Mike’s take on the Golden Rule might have looked something like this: “Do unto others only if they can do for you.” But isn’t this how many of us treat others in our daily lives? Let’s look at this in light of some popular, positive business thinking:

  • If you want better productivity, keep a personal presence with your employees, ask for their input and feedback often, and treat them with respect.”
  • “During your interviews, remembering to use the interviewer’s name several times during the conversation and referring to any common interests you may have is a great way to be memorable and stand out from other applicants.
  •  “Sharing personal stories or relating to felt needs results in more sales than presenting product information alone.

Quid pro quo.

Even well-meaning people with the best of intentions can wind up living out a tarnished version of the Golden Rule.

Uh-oh. Some of you just got mad. You feel like the naughty child sent to the corner. No need for any of that; I sometimes find myself right there in the corner with you. Even well-meaning people with the best of intentions can wind up living out a tarnished version of the Golden Rule.  It is all too easy to view people as resources, opportunities or obstacles, rather than what they are – real people just like you.  The practices listed above are certainly not wrong in and of themselves; in fact, they can be very right. They merely point out how easily we can find ourselves treating others as “ways and means” if we do not remain intentional, keeping tabs on our own motives and reminding ourselves continually of the intrinsic worth of people, regardless of whether or not we get from them what we want.

Let’s see how you did with your recollection of the Golden Rule. Here is how the most popular English rendition reads:

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

Notice:

The Golden Rule does not say, “Do unto others so that they will do unto you.” This twists truth into manipulation, pandering and other self-serving means.

The Golden Rule does not say, “Do unto others because they have done unto you.” Here, wisdom may be warped into obligation, back-scratching and a host of other less noble motivations.

The Golden Rule does not say, “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” This negative take on things can insidiously slip in and lead to stepping on others to climb the ladder, or treating people as obstacles in the way of what we want.

It is all too easy to view people as resources, opportunities or obstacles, rather than what they are – real people just like you.

The gold in the Golden Rule is the conditional bit in the middle: “… as you would have them do unto you.” The magic comes from locking in an image of how you yourself would ideally like to be treated – and then simply treating the people around you that way. This does not depend on whether the person buys from you right now, has just pointed out the flaws in a plan you worked hard to develop and present, or even on whether or not they will return the favor.

Do you enjoy being greeted with a candid smile and genuine warmth for no reason other than that you are in someone’s company? Greet others this way.

Do you like to be thoughtfully appreciated when you do something well? Appreciate others with this kind of intention and excitement.

Do you feel valued and noticed when someone stops to sincerely ask how you are, or inquires about the things that are important to you? Make it your goal to express this kind of honest interest in the people around you.

Switch & Shift has a tag line, one akin to a mission: “Human Side of Business.” Remember: truth is true. Take care of the human side simply because you believe that people are worthwhile. If you do, the business side will most often take care of itself.

Take care of the human side simply because you believe that people are worthwhile. @BestAdviceSoFar
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Copyright: bowie15 / 123RF Stock Photo

Erik Tyler

Erik Tyler has been a personal mentor and family advocate with more than 500 teens and young adults over the last 25 years. During this time, he has also been an educator, educational advocate, learning and language specialist, graphic designer, musician and living statue. He is the author of the newly-launched book The Best Advice So Far, which offers practical application of collective wisdom in the context of poignant (and often hilarious) stories from his experience. Erik’s central theme as a mentor, speaker and author is consistent: “You always have a choice.”

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  • Steve Walters

    Well written! Makes me think for sure. Perhaps a follow-up story about someone the complete opposite of Mike might help inspire some specific new behaviors. Makes me think about who in my life represents what you describe. How do others perceive ME?

  • Steve Walters

    Well written! Makes me think for sure. Perhaps a follow-up story about someone the complete opposite of Mike might help inspire some specific new behaviors. Makes me think about who in my life represents what you describe. How do others perceive ME?

    • http://www.TheBestAdviceSoFar.com/ Erik Tyler

      Hi, Steve. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and suggestions. A small follow-up to this story: I returned from vacation this past Friday to find that Mike — the young man mentioned in the story above — had been elevated to the position of manager. I’ll let that say to you and other readers whatever it will.

    • http://www.TheBestAdviceSoFar.com/ Erik Tyler

      Hi, Steve. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and suggestions. A small follow-up to this story: I returned from vacation this past Friday to find that Mike — the young man mentioned in the story above — had been elevated to the position of manager. I’ll let that say to you and other readers whatever it will.

  • Brother John

    Great article, Erik. If only we could all practice some of the simple things you write about.

    • http://www.TheBestAdviceSoFar.com/ Erik Tyler

      Hello, Brother John. Wait, are you my actual BROTHER … John? In any case, brother or no, the truth is we all CAN practice the simple things I write about! As ever, it comes down to choice. I think the hardest part of these “simple things” is continuing to see others as real, living, breathing people instead of merely as props moving around on our own stage. Stepping outside of the default me-centered mentality takes daily, intentional … well, you said it yourself … PRACTICE.

    • http://www.TheBestAdviceSoFar.com/ Erik Tyler

      Hello, Brother John. Wait, are you my actual BROTHER … John? In any case, brother or no, the truth is we all CAN practice the simple things I write about! As ever, it comes down to choice. I think the hardest part of these “simple things” is continuing to see others as real, living, breathing people instead of merely as props moving around on our own stage. Stepping outside of the default me-centered mentality takes daily, intentional … well, you said it yourself … PRACTICE.

    • http://www.TheBestAdviceSoFar.com/ Erik Tyler

      Hello, Brother John. Wait, are you my actual BROTHER … John? In any case, brother or no, the truth is we all CAN practice the simple things I write about! As ever, it comes down to choice. I think the hardest part of these “simple things” is continuing to see others as real, living, breathing people instead of merely as props moving around on our own stage. Stepping outside of the default me-centered mentality takes daily, intentional … well, you said it yourself … PRACTICE.

    • http://www.TheBestAdviceSoFar.com/ Erik Tyler

      Hello, Brother John. Wait, are you my actual BROTHER … John? In any case, brother or no, the truth is we all CAN practice the simple things I write about! As ever, it comes down to choice. I think the hardest part of these “simple things” is continuing to see others as real, living, breathing people instead of merely as props moving around on our own stage. Stepping outside of the default me-centered mentality takes daily, intentional … well, you said it yourself … PRACTICE.

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