People are usually taught some version of the Golden Rule, originating in religion or philosophy or just common sense. It is stated in various forms but usually boils down to the precept that one should behave towards others the way that you would like them to behave towards you or, even more extreme, that one should love everybody.
The trouble with this is that while it is no doubt very positive and uplifting, it is too vague and hard to operationalize. How I would like others to behave towards me depends on the specifics of that other person and how I would behave towards them. There are some people whom I would like to not be part of my life at all. Does that mean that I should go out of my way to avoid them? In practice, that is what I do but Golden Rule purists will frown and say that I am subverting the intended positive message that calls for improving my relationships with everybody. But the problem is that there are some people whom I just don’t like at all and can’t be bothered cultivating better relationships with them. Sorry, but that’s the way I feel.
The problem is that the old Golden Rule is too vague and subject to idiosyncratic interpretations. I think that a better rule is: Don’t be a jerk.
This rule is very simple and easy to understand. Pretty much everyone can agree on what constitutes jerk behavior. People may do it anyway and justify it in some ways but deep down, I think we all know when we have acted like a jerk. Cutting off people in traffic, jumping the line, using racist, sexist, and other slurs, bring gratuitously rude, putting down others, treating animals badly, etc., are all jerk moves.
For example, there would be universal agreement that the man who fat-shamed a woman on a flight was being a jerk. In Russia, a group of body builders are going around ‘persuading’ people not to behave like jerks when it comes to flouting parking or driving rules. There is even apparently a TV show of their exploits and here are a couple of clips.
The high standards that constitute the old forms of the Golden Rule are too difficult to meet and so vague that most people don’t even try, leaving us all none the better. The best part of the ‘don’t be a jerk’ rule is that one can apply it even to people whom one does not like at all. Avoiding them without being rude would meet the standards of this new Golden Rule while freeing oneself from having to deal with them at all.
A lot of unhappiness and tension is caused by people acting like jerks. I think that obeying the rule to not be a jerk is much more easily attained because it is so obvious what a jerk move is and usually it costs us nothing to avoid it. If we could eliminate much of the jerk behavior, the world would be a much better place even if we don’t have universal love.