We usually think of the Golden Rule as a check against wronging others through our actions, but it should be applied to basic consideration and convenience issues as well. As I learned in two separate incidents that may have raised my blood pressure levels permanently, some people don’t understand how to do that.
In the first incident, emergency household repairs forced me to make a midnight drive to the local CVS to buy a roll of duct tape. In response to my inquiry, the one clerk in the huge, deserted store directed me to “Aisle 4.” Each aisle had a prominent number over it, from 1 to 26, though the order of the aisles was a bit skewed because some were horizontal and others were vertical. I couldn’t find Aisle 4. Determined to do so without asking for further help, I did a sweep of the entire store, getting more frustrated with myself and the store’s layout with each passing minute. Finally, I surrendered. I walked back to the check-out area and asked the clerk, “OK, I give up! What’s the secret to finding Aisle 4? I can’t see the sign anywhere.”
“Oh,” he said, chuckling. “There is no sign over that aisle. See the big aisle over there? That’s Aisle 4!”
“What???” I replied. “Why didn’t you tell me that when I asked? How was I supposed to know Aisle 4 was the unmarked aisle.”
“Actually, Aisle 22 isn’t marked either,” he said.
You see, he could find the aisle without any trouble because he worked there, so he gave me the same amount of information he would have needed in my position. That’s not applying the Golden Rule, however. What he should have done was to give me the information he would have wanted from someone like him if he were me—a customer unfamiliar with the layout of the store. This is called consideration and empathy, not being a dim-wit, and it is also the proper way to apply the Golden Rule. How would you want to be treated if you were the other guy, in the other guy’s dilemma, with the other guy’s problems and knowledge? If you just place yourself in his or her position, you may miss a key ingredient of the right thing to do.
In incident #2, also unmarked, I had to pick up my son, who was ill, at his middle school. When I went to the door nearest to the office, I found it locked, and encountered a sign that said, “After the beginning of the school day, please go to the main entrance for access. Thank-you for keeping the school safe.” The door had a number 3 on it, but there was no instruction regarding where the “main entrance” was. I assumed it must be on the long, multi-door entrance under the school name on the side of the building facing the major street; after all, that was the building’s address. I walked around to the doors, and all of them were locked too, with the same sign on the door: “After the beginning of the school day, please go to the main entrance for access. Thank-you for keeping the school safe.”
All right, I concluded, assuming the main entrance isn’t in the back facing the athletic fields, it must be on the remaining side. I walked over to those doors. They were locked too. They also had the same message. I finally blew my stack, called the school office, and demanded someone meet me at the door I was standing at and let me in. “Where’s the main entrance?” I asked the woman who opened the door.
It happened to be the next door to the left of the first one I went tried. And why didn’t the sign say where the main entrance was? Why wasn’t there an arrow pointing me where to go? Why didn’t anyone think about the position of the first-time visitor to the school who would have no way to know where to look for the “main entrance,” rather than compose the sign as if it was intended for someone who already knew where the main entrance was?
“We didn’t design the building,” an administrator said, as if that was an answer. Actually, it was the answer, as it told me all I needed to know about the quality of thought being used at the school.Yet even these individuals could have avoided their mistake if they had applied consideration and empathy, and decided what the sign needed to say from the standpoint of someone who didn’t already know the school.
But they didn’t apply the Golden Rule.