Platinum or Play-dough? – Day 20

This is a bit of a long one, so hold on to your hats.

I heard about the "Platinum Rule" in a series of different presentations recently. According to the different presenters, they said that the Platinum Rule is based on the Golden Rule "Treat others as you would want to be treated". The "Platinum Rule" is "Treat others the way that they want to be treated". Some said that the two rules were good in different contexts. Others said that the Platinum Rule was superior to the Golden Rule and hinted that the Golden Rule was not sufficient. Because of my upbringing, this appearance of a rule that was claimed to be similar to or even better than what I had learned from my parents rubbed me the wrong way, and I was determined to figure out where the problem lay.

My immediate reaction was "well, if you are interested in how I want to be treated, then please treat me like royalty, and obey my every command." But that would be too ridiculous for someone to take me seriously, so I had to figure out what the actual problem was.

So, I went and opened up the Gospel of Matthew, which states the Golden Rule as follows: "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."(Matthew 7:12, RSVCE) Now, that is rather different from "Treat others as you want to be treated", but the word "do" is rather generic and could be taken to mean "treat". So I pulled up a copy of the Latin Vulgate (Sadly, I don't know Greek), and read the following: "Omnia ergo quæcumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, et vos facite illis. Hæc est enim lex, et prophetæ." (emphasis added). Then I pulled up the origin of the word "treat", and it went back to the Latin word, "tractare".

To use the Latin infinitive:

  • Facere: to do, to make. The sense I get is one of a craftsman fashioning with his tools.
  • Tractare: to handle, to manage. The sense I get is of two people working out a deal.

That doesn't seem the same at all. So I did a little more work and managed to pick out the Greek word: "ποιῶσιν", which transliterated to "poiósin". After some more digging, I landed on the following page: The Greek is definitely more ambiguous than the Latin, but it still leans more toward "facere" than "tractare".

Based on this information, claiming that the Golden Rule is: "Treat others as you want to be treated" is very transactional. A transactional relationship is rather impersonal, hence the desire to emphasize the person and personality of others with the Platinum Rule. However, the Golden Rule as originally stated: "Whatever you wish men would do to you, do so to them" speaks of bringing something into being that wasn't present before.

Taking a step back and looking at the context of the Golden Rule, further emphasizes the distance from the "Treat" version. The Golden Rule is stated as part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that begins with the 8 beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit...". Here is the surrounding context of the verse (Golden Rule emphasized):

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:7-14, RSVCE

The key to understanding how the Golden Rule fits into this context is in the phrase "For this is the law and the prophets". Turning to the Haydock Commentary:

"For this is the law and the prophets; that is, all precepts that regard our neighbor are directed by this golden rule, do as you would be done by. WI. - The whole law and the duties between man and man inculcated by the prophets, have this principle for foundation. The Roman emperor Alexander Severus, is related to have said that he esteemed the Christians for their acting on this principle. A. - This is the sum of the law and the prophets, the whole law of the Jews. M."

Also, from the commentary by Cornelius of Lapide:

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would, &c. The word therefore, some are of opinion has not here any inferential meaning, but is only an enclitic particle, denoting the conclusion of this part of our Lord's Sermon. Hence the Syriac omits it. On the other hand we may, with S. Chrysostom, take the therefore as inferential, and then the meaning would be this: "What I have hitherto said at large concerning love of your neighbor and giving of alms, all these things arise out of this primary natural precept, and first principle of moral philosophy, and rest upon equity, that what thou wishest to be done to thyself that thou shouldst do to others, and what thou dost not wish to suffer from others, that thou shouldst not do unto others." Understand that wishest and wishest not, must be taken in a good sense, as guided by right reason. For the man who wishes wine to ve given him that he may get drunk may not lawfully offer it to others for such a purpose. Christ here alludes to the monition which Tobi, when he was dying, gave to his son (iv. 16): "That which thou wouldst hate to be done until thyself, take heed that at no time thou doest it to another."

Given these reflections on the Golden rule, it becomes apparent that the comparison between the Golden rule and the Platinum rule skips over the Christian and Jewish moral foundation that are part of the Golden Rule. With the focus on an amoral, transactional, bargaining type relationship between the two people, it's easy to see why the emphasis on the value of the other person is desired. The value of each human being is embedded in the Christian and Jewish moral tradition, like a diamond in a gold ring, which is why there would be no need to have a second "rule" to help clarify that. Insisting that we treat others as they want to be treated, is rather amorphous and makes it easy for whoever is "other" to insist on their way, treating us rather like play-dough to be shaped to their liking.

The Christian tradition, however, gives a strong example for not "treat[ing] others the way that they want to be treated" with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. At the turning point in the parable, the younger son has come to himself and says : "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15 18-19, RSVCE. Emphasis added.) Does the father treat his son in the way his son wants to be treated? No! He overwhelms him with love and generosity, restoring the son to his lost dignity and also treating him in the way that he, the father, wishes to be treated.

To end on a couple humorous and slightly humbling notes; I did some final validation in my research, and it turns out that the Latin for the prodigal son's statement is "Fac me sicut". So I have this long-winded passage about how "treat" is different from "make" and here is a good translation that says the underlying word can be translated both ways. Sigh. Also, I looked up where the verb "Tractare" is used in the Gospel, and it's used only once in Mark: When Christ asks the apostles what they were discussing (tractabatis) along the way. But the apostles remained silent because they had been discussing (disputaverunt) who was the greatest among them.

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