Do Unto Others… What?

The famous Golden Rule from the Bible says

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Allow me to disagree. Or at least to clarify.

As stated, this rule makes for a poor kink partner. Say, you are a dominant and love to control others, play with them, have your way with them, enjoy their pain and discomfort, push them deep into subspace, leave physical and maybe even emotional marks on them… So, what would you “have them do unto you”? Well, obviously, submit to you, let you have their way with them and enjoy the process. So, if you take the Golden Rule literally, you should do the same to them, right? That is, submit to them, let them have their way with you, etc. Sounds absurd in the context of BDSM, where the interaction is nearly universally asymmetric. The Bible authors can be forgiven for not getting this one right, though, the maxim in question was written some two thousand years before the idea of the typical mind fallacy was ever conceived:

The typical mind fallacy is the mistake of modelling the minds inside other people’s brains as exactly the same as your own mind.

Wikipedia refers to it as the psychologist’s fallacy:

the “similar to me” stereotype: what is unknown about another person is assumed, for simplicity, using things the observer knows about themselves.

In other words, we naturally and often subconsciously assume that our own needs, feelings, values and ideas are (or ought to be) universal. We all know and acknowledge the exceptions from this “rule”, but then most of us go right back to acting as if everyone else is mostly like us.

I am as guilty of this as anyone else (is this statement an example of this fallacy? hah!). When first exposed to kink, I could not relate to the idea of being turned on by being humiliated. How and why on earth would one want to hear

You are a dirty needy whore, whose only purpose is to be used as a cum dumpster for men who don’t give a shit about you, aren’t you?

and get off on it? Surely something is wrong with that person and needs to be fixed, not condoned or indulged. It took me a long time to come to terms with the simple idea that words like that, for the right person and in the right context, are arousing, and sometimes even healing and not borne of self-hate or self-harm. They can be, of course, in a different context, but that is not a given, by any means. So, given how different our minds are, the literal Golden Rule may not be quite the right prescription.

Back to the Golden Rule. If you dig a little bit deeper into the Old and New Testament, the rule is actually a prescription that follows from a more general, but also a more vague rule

Love your neighbor as yourself

This sounds all happy and wonderful, but how exactly would one do that? Also, if you had a dysfunctional upbringing, self-love can be a foreign concept to you. And back in the times of Jesus dysfunction was probably the norm, rather than an exception. So, smart as he was, divine or not, Jesus was probably exasperated with people not understanding such a simple idea of loving one’s neighbor. Also, however smart, he probably fell prey to the typical mind fallacy, thinking that loving other people should be easy. So, eventually he had to try to digest the nebulous idea of loving your neighbor into a simple and concrete prescription, telling the followers how to act, not just how to feel or think. This way, even if one struggles with actual love, for oneself or for others, they would still be able to do the right thing, at least according to the teachings. In the modern parlance it is known as “acting as if” until it becomes a habit and feels natural. So, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. A simple prescription. Just ask yourself in a given situation what you would want for yourself, and do the same for others. Certainly a million times better than the Code of Hammurabi’s or the Old Testament’s prescription of “eye for an eye”. But still, these days we can do better.

Even if you start with loving your neighbor, you can do better than loving them as yourself, even if you do love yourself. How do you know what being loved means to them? How do you avoid the typical mind trap? Books have been written about it, The Five Love Languages is one of the most popular series. But this is already the first step, realizing that the way someone else wants to experience love is not the same as yours, and making an effort to understand what works for them, without assuming that they like the same thing you do. This step is not found in the teachings of Jesus, whether because he didn’t teach it, or because his disciples could not wrap their head around it, and simplified the message into the form digestible by the masses. Imagine the universal love maxim to be stated as

Love your neighbor as they want to be loved

But… how do they want to be loved? That sounds complicated! You have to figure it out. Let’s modify the Golden Rule accordingly

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them

Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, either, does it? More modern approaches to the Golden Rule, which emphasizes empathy and compassion, state something like

One practical way to love others better is to imagine ourselves in their shoes. When we pause to think how we might like to be treated in a certain situation, we build empathy for those actually living in that situation. Do we like to be treated with love and respect? Then we should give that gift to others.

Sounds great, as long as we can figure out what “love and respect” mean for those others. Actually, some have already figured it out: Love Is Respect. In this context respect is understanding your partner’s needs a wishes and acting accordingly. In a way, you don’t only imagine yourself in their shoes, you imagine being them in their shoes, a much harder task. It requires a lot of work actually listening to the other person, valuing their needs and views, and supporting them. Performing the hard work of doing unto others as they would have you do unto them. And sometimes it means calling them a dirty whore who needs to be used and fucked. With all due respect.



  1. May More

    I do agree with what you are saying here and of course we hopefully are all individuals so it is not on really, to think that most people feel the same as us or want the same things – we need to treat others as they themselves want to be treated and yes this could be loads different to what anyone else wants! Great post…
    Thanks for joining in with F4t 😉

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  2. Floss

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic for #F4TFriday 🙂 I often think with a lot of these phrases and approaches to social behaviours, they work on a basic level, but often lose a little something when we try and apply them to deeper thinking or more specific scenarios, which I think you have detailed here very well. In my job, the simple notion of treating others as I wish to be treated works very well, as you’ve highlighted though, applying that same notion to my D/s dynamic wouldn’t always work quite so smoothly! As we have different primary kinks, different love languages and are of course totally different individuals. I think you’ve made some great points in your post and it aptly it definitely gives us food for thought :p x

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