The golden rule seems very straight forward – “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, “love thy neighbor as thyself”, and “treat others the way you want to be treated” seem like they don’t need further explanation, but even if our interpretation is correct, we often unintentionally screw up. It’s human nature to generally assume that others feel and think similarly to ourselves. For example, when I’m sick, I want privacy, so I tend to assume that others would also want to be left alone. However, unbeknownst to me, my friend might feel a deep need to talk to someone about her illness or to talk to someone about anything other than her illness as a way to keep her mind off of the troubling situation.
This is why David Kerpen described The Platinum Rule in The Art of People , which is “Do unto others as they would want done to them.” This is helpful, in my opinion, only if you know someone pretty well. The rest of the time, all that you can do is try with a good heart to guess what someone wants. Reasonable people will never be upset if you guess wrong as long as your intentions are good, and who cares what unreasonable people think? It will always be better to check in with your friend than it would be to stay away in case she wants solitude.
Others have said that the real rule to follow is “Don’t do to others what you don’t like them doing to you”. This is also open to what your personal preferences are. If you don’t like people celebrating your birthday and so assume that no one likes attention on their birthday, you could end up unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings if they are expectantly waiting for their cake and fanfare.
Many people do good deeds only because they believe that they will be rewarded for it later (“I want my karma to be good”). Unfortunately for them, this isn’t at all how karma works. Having “good karma” comes from selflessly acting to help others without the promise of a later reward. Don’t bother trying to follow the golden rule so that the universe will provide you with whatever it is that you’re hoping for…live it because we all have dark days and kindness and generosity have the ability to brighten an entire room. Do it because you can’t be truly well unless you care for the wellbeing of others.