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"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."
—Confucius, Analects XV.24 (ca 500 BC)
"Do unto others as you would have done unto you"
—Jesus, Luke 6:31 (ca 100 AD)
"Whatever belief you belong to,
there's still always a reason to doubt
And there's always another opinion,
as to what life is all about [...]
There's only one thing to remember,
there is only one thing you can do:
And that is to do unto others,
as you'd have others do unto you"
—Clawfinger, Two Sides (of every story) (ca 2000 AD)
To treat others like you would like them to treat you is one of the most basic and universal moral principles that exist. With all of the different ways of expressing it, this principle is known as The Golden Rule. In various works of fiction it surfaces as a Stock Aesop as well as a Stock Phrase.
When played as An Aesop, there are two main ways in which it can come into play. In the negative form (don't treat others in a way you wouldn't want to be treated), the villain (or Jerkass protagonist) does something bad to another person. He then experiences the same thing being done to him. Or possibly he is Hoist by His Own Petard. He might then decide not to do that to others anymore.
In the positive form (treat others like you want to be treated), the Hero might do something good for another without expectation of a reward. This good deed turns out to be very beneficial for the Hero too. Sometimes because the person he helped has unexpectedly returned to reward him. (This is very popular in fairy tales where the beggar woman turns out to be a powerful fairy instead).
When played as a Stock Phrase, it sometimes uses a quote from religious scriptures, such as the Confucianism page quote for the negative form or the Christianity page quote for the positive form.
A character might apply a strawman version of the golden rule, treating people exactly like he likes to be treated, without any regard for how they want to be treated. This might lead to him encountering someone who treats him the same way. For example, he might give a lot of attention to a woman he's attracted to, insisting that he would love if she treated him the same way - never mind that she isn't attracted to him. Then someone that he isn't attracted to (and who might be of the same sex) treats him the same way. Thus he learns that he shouldn't treat women like that (because, of course, being hit on by someone you don't happen to be interested in is just the same as being hit on by someone you find actively repellent) - or at least that's what he ought to learn. The lesson he actually does learn might instead be to shun "ugly" women and homosexuals.
When judging if a action is moral or not, one can either see to the principle behind the action or to the consequences of the action. For morality based on principles, the golden rule is the most common principle to base the morality on. A common subversion is that the Golden Rule is: "He who has the Gold makes the rules!". Another is "Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us".
- In Naruto, other characters open up to the protagonist - trust him and help him - because they realize that he is doing the same for them.
- Invoked in Enemy Mine, when the alien Jerry teaches Davidge about the religious believes of his people. When Davidge points out that the same thing is said in the Bible, the alien isn't suprised at all, since "truth is truth".
- This one of the many morals promoted by Its a Wonderful Life
- The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: The spirit of the rule is played straight, while the literal wording of the biblical version os played with in the 8:th commandment. FSM really prefers if we don't do stuff to others that we would like them to do to us but they don't want us to do to them. Oh, and that goes especially for rough sex.
- Small Gods has one of the cynical subversions: the Great God Om advises "Do unto others before they do unto you." He gets called out on his lack of compassion by Brutha in a "The Reason You Suck" Speech during the crossing of the desert.
- Invoked in Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: The main character lives in a habitat called Golden Rule. Where, we are told, there is only one rule, and all others are merely derived from it.
- However, the only interpretation of the Golden Rule practiced in the habitat is that of the station's feudal ruler.
- The Bible uses this in the stories about Jesus. Invoked by the main character as a moral principle, and also used as An Aesop in several of the parables (short stories within the main story). The most famous is the story of the Good Samaritan (which is specifically about applying this to strangers and people outside one's own tribe).
- Inverted in Anton LaVey's The Satanic Bible with the "Lex Talionis" (Law of Reprisal): "Do unto others as they do unto you."
- The Talmud gives us the tale of Hillel the Elder, a Rabbi who was challenged by a Gentile to teach him the whole of the Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel replied "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary."
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, a subversion was given of a Vor lord who loved liversweets and therefore gave them to everyone, not understanding why they never gave any to him.
- Diane Duane's Star Trek novel Spock's World has a particularly poetic version of this rule, credited to Surak: "The spear in the other's heart is the spear in your own; you are he."
- In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, the catechism of the Religion of Evil includes: "My duty towards my neighbor is to do my best to prevent him from doing unto me what I should like to do unto him."
- In "Die Heimkehr" ("Homecoming: A Novel") by the German author Bernhard Schlink the main character's father invokes a variation he calls the "Iron Rule": "Whatever I am ready to suffer myself I may inflict onto others as well."
- Debated on How I Met Your Mother: Barney came up with the Platinum Rule: "You can love thy neighbor, but you can never, ever love thy neighbor." The others point out how Love Thy Neighbor isn't the Golden Rule as such.
- Subject of a Crosses the Line Twice joke in The Daily Show, where apropos of a meeting between Catholic Cardinals to discuss the sexual molestation scandals, Jon claims that the aforementioned Bible verse will be altered to include the footnote "except when explicitly prohibited by law".
- Mike Hammer of The Red Green Show calls this the "Gold Card" rule, citing it as "do unto others before they can do unto you". Keep in mind, Mike is a habitual criminal, so it makes sense his take on this is a little off.
- Played straight as Aesop (and also invoked) in Clawfingers Two Sides (of every story). See page quote.
- Inverted/Parodied in a Benny Hill song: "Do unto others before they do it unto you."
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The comic points out a possible analogy with the "Prisoner's Dilemma". Option A: If both choose "sell each other out" it's like "act selfishly" for the Golden Rule because it's worse for both parties, and option D: "each do as you would like other to do to you" is like "refuse to sell out" because it's best for both if they cooperate and reciprocate. It then points out that although it's a universal moral, its proponents have argued for it it in very different ways.
Jeremy Bentham: "The greatest felicity for all is here! Eh? Come on! Maximize your felicity in option D! Wooh!"
- Schlock Mercenary book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates" has a somewhat abridged version: "Do unto others".
- Florence from Freefall points out a common mistake.
- Another mistake pointed out here.
- Played as an underlying Aesop in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. What really sets him free is that he lets Belle go. No longer his prisoner, she is free to love him, thus releasing him from his own magical prison. (Now, if only someone could give that horrible Enchantress a taste of her own medicine so that she could eventually learn the same lesson?)
- The common subversion shows up in Aladdin:
Jafar: "You've heard of the golden rule, haven't you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules."
- A DuckTales episode describes Scrooge McDuck as a follower of the same subversion. At least before he was taught the true meaning.
- The Little Troll Prince has a group of trolls reciting their subversion of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others before they do unto you." Later, human children go on to instruct the prince on what their version of the Golden Rule is.
- When Homer hears the Golden Rule on The Simpsons he responds, "Right, that'll work."