Beyond the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule!
(Winter 2013 - Volume 26, Number 4) By Angene Wilson
As I read the articles in the Winter 2013 issue of WorldView magazine about changemaking and empathy, I was reminded of Milton Bennett’s very important article “Overcoming the Golden Rule: Sympathy and Empathy.” First published in 1966, it was included in Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication, Selected Readings, edited by Bennett and published in 1998. I used that book as one text in the course I taught for many years for our students planning to student teach overseas.
Objective: Students will be able to explain and practice empathy and know the difference between the golden rule and the platinum rule.
Materials: Teacher may want to skim all the articles in the Changemaking section of WorldView. The “Empathy Curricula and the Next Generation of Changemakers” article may be most helpful because it references the startempathy.org website that includes in pdf form an empathy curriculum. Many of the curriculum ideas are for younger students, but the This American Life group conversations which are described in the “Starting with Empathy” article are inspiration for the practicing of empathy in this lesson plan.
Procedure: Begin by asking students to state and explain the Golden Rule and then to offer examples, either in whole group discussion or in pairs first.
Introduce the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” That means we have to imagine the other person’s experience – empathize – and treat that person the way he or she would like to be treated, not the way we want to be treated. We have to assume difference. as an example of intercultural empathy, Bennett points to the new picture of Henry Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of state, holding hands side by side with then president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. Kissinger was behaving in a way appropriate to Sadat’s experience of male hand holding rather than his own cultural experience.
Challenge students to rework their examples of the Golden Rule and make them examples of the Platinum Rule and to come up with another example of how they might try the Platinum Rule in their own interactions. talk a little about how hard that may be, how hard it can be to empathize. although the Platinum Rule is particularly important in cross-cultural situations, it also works across generations and genders, siblings and spouses.
As a follow-on activity: Try out the empathy-building idea inspired by This American Life radio show. The examples in the WorldView article of small group student conversations around common experiences include wearing glasses, being bilingual, being multiracial, having LGBT parents, coping with divorce. Each dialogue became a podcast that was then shared with the school community.