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Jennifer Wagner: Forget the Golden Rule; think about others’ feelings first

July 13, 2018

WagnerThe week Attorney General Curtis Hill’s political—and possibly professional and legal—future imploded in front of our eyes, I found myself sitting in an anti-harassment training at work that had been planned months prior.

Among the many topics we discussed, perhaps the most important was the Platinum Rule.

For decades, we’ve told people to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. But that’s not the standard we intend to set. What we really want people to do is treat other people the way those other people would want to be treated.

Welcome to the Platinum Rule, which forces someone to consider the perspective of the other person. The Golden Rule, conversely, allows someone to project his or her own emotional standard on the other person. In other words, I might think something is fine (i.e. how I’d want to be treated), but you might think it’s awful. I should consider your feelings, not mine, before I act.

Now, let’s apply these rules to a hypothetical elected official who found himself at a hypothetical bar after the hypothetical adjournment of the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.

Golden Rule: “I don’t see why these women wouldn’t want me all over them.”

Platinum Rule: “I totally understand why women would not want me to touch them in any way without their consent.”

See how easy that is?

The trouble is, folks who are so consumed with their own egos and power, real or imagined, rarely think about how their behavior affects other people. And when they get caught engaging in illegal or inappropriate behavior, they often, as Hill allegedly did, double down on the misdeed instead of taking responsibility for their actions—even in the face of criticism from those with whom they are politically or ideologically aligned.

I’m sure it’s not easy to voluntarily fall from grace, but self-awareness is a beautiful thing. Hill had an opportunity to deploy the Platinum Rule and beg forgiveness from those he wronged. We Hoosiers are nothing if not compassionate.

Yet even as two of his five alleged victims publicly identified themselves and stood in the sunlight, Hill issued a more defiant response showing no remorse. Not even a little.

I doubt this will happen at this point, but it’s never too late to choose the right path forward. Hope springs eternal, but reversing course would have to come from the heart.

Nothing rings more hollow than the non-apology apology: “I’m sorry you’re offended or upset by whatever stupid, insensitive or illegal thing I did.”

No, no, no.

You have to be sorry for the thing you did, not sorry that someone else was upset by it.

And that’s the beauty of the Platinum Rule. If you adopt it as a way of life, you won’t have to worry about the courts—whether legal or of public opinion—because you will have done justice to those around you before justice has to be done to you.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and vice president of communications at EdChoice. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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