The Golden Rule 2.0

Summary: For over 3,000 years the Golden Rule has been the most widely known moral standard of behavior. People all over the world know some variation of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” However, as people increasingly have more impersonal actions (as part of the global economy, and with the environment), the Golden Rule has become less pertinent.

Group Genie has developed a major upgrade of the Golden Rule, and explains why it’s needed in this century. The main reason that it’s needed is that the Golden Rule 2.0 gives most people a good understanding of how much action and what kind of action is enough to maintain the world. Once people understand this, they can have a better grasp of the inadequacies of current efforts. This can help inspire more effort, as well as more balanced and strategic effort

We consider the Golden Rule 2.0 to be a potential major upgrade for humanity.

(The following Two Tables Model is a concept that introduces the Golden Rul 2.0.)

Imagine that all your goals and dreams for this life are in an imaginary box. This box rests on a table whose four legs represent the stability of your health, your mental health, your key personal relationships, and your ethical/spiritual integrity. If even one of these legs is compromised, the leg breaks, the table tips, and your goals and dreams—and maybe your life—are in trouble. For instance, you can’t achieve most of your goals and dreams if you don’t take care of your body and it breaks down.

Most people recognize the importance of maintaining these four legs. But this table is on another, much larger, table. This table’s four legs are the environment, the economy, the community, and your political system. Instability in any of these four life-support systems can cause suffering or death.

This drawing is of a box representing goals and dreams that is supported by a table with four legs that represent four "systems" needed to reach your goals, and that box is supported by another table that represents four more systems that support everyone

One important aspect of this model is that most people think of the environment and the political world, as “out there,” as something distant. In other words, many people unconsciously hold the following “Four Circles” model of the world:


This model nicely places you at the center. It also nicely “insulates” you from the world by interposing your family and community. According to the model, people tend to first take care of themselves; then their family and friends; and then perhaps some part of their community. This may be their church community, or some disadvantaged group. In this model, the “world” is distant. The world is what you see on the TV news. The world is extra credit; it’s what you work on if you are Mother Teresa or Gandhi.

But in the Two Tables Model, the environment and the economy and the other parts of the world are not “out there”—they are underneath us. We depend on them. In this sense the Two Tables model is more accurate than the Four Circles. Referring to the model, Tim Cimino tells people, “The bottom half of your goals and dreams is a stable world.” You could also say that people who take care of the upper table and not the bottom are like castle defenders who guard the top part of the castle, but leave the lower gates undefended. Or they are like a family that has a two-story wooden house who paint and care for the top floor of their house, but leave the ground floor to rot.

One important implication of the Two Tables Model is that it inaugurates the fifth generation of time management. Stephen Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People saw the fourth generation as maintaining a balance between producing whatever you wanted and sustaining and improving the capacity to produce some more. The fifth generation provides a further level of optimization. Put simply, for long-range optimization one must balance attainment of goals and dreams with the maintenance and development of all our mutual life-support systems.

[Note: Those with a technical background will recognize that the Two Tables Model is an application of Systems Theory. So it’s not as original an idea as the others listed here. But we feel it is invaluable because it takes something as complex and universal as Systems Theory, and makes it something that a twelve-year-old can understand.]

The Golden Rule 2.0

How Much Action Is Enough to Stabilize the World?

The Two Tables Model is a useful idea. But it doesn’t answer an important question: How much action and what kind of action is enough to sustain the world?

We can give you an answer that is perfect, but useless. However, we’ll keep adjusting it until it becomes useful.

First, let’s look at the ideal situation. If the environment were in balance, and if everyone put back into the environment exactly as much as they took out—recycling, tree planting, using renewable energy, and so forth—the environment would stay in balance. Other examples: A healthy democracy would only require that the citizens learn about the issues, vote and also do some advocacy. If the economy were healthy, it would be enough for people to work and pay taxes. If the world were in good shape, all that people need to do is undo whatever environmental, economic, political and social damage they cause. So, the perfect answer is “Return to each of these life-support systems exactly as much as you take.” Let’s call this statement the “perfect-but-useless” form of the Golden Rule 2.0.

But, of course, these life-support systems aren’t healthy and in balance. So, the first adjustment is for people to put back more than they take, to compensate for the imbalances. This “extra” will gradually return the systems to balance.

Next, notice that young children, the infirm and disabled, and the very elderly can’t do their share. They can’t put back as much they take. So the second adjustment is for those who can take action to do more positive action, to “carry” those who can’t do environmental, political, community or economic actions. The young, the old, the infirm, the mentally ill and the “morally ill” (those who refuse to do their share) make up roughly half the population. This means that those who can act ought to do roughly twice as much action. (Much of the extra action compensates for the time you were a child, and for the time you will be elderly, or ill, or in crisis. Only some of the extra effort is to carry the others.)

Twice as much effort sounds like a lot, but it will be doable because of the ongoing support of superprograms and the superprogram strategies of first building skills, more spare time and money. It’s also more doable because you can act with the help of many nonprofit organizations that try to streamline your efforts and maximize your impact.

Another reason to put in extra effort is because real systems are not perfectly efficient. Just as car engines and jet engines are not perfectly efficient because energy is lost in the form of heat, governments and economies are not perfectly efficient. Some power is lost in the form of bureaucracy.

Another strategy is to focus on political change first, since much of our taxes are misspent. If they were better spent, we would have to spend less out of our pockets through donations to charities.

Incidentally, while most people understand political actions and environmental actions, they sometimes misunderstand what we mean by economic actions. While actions like getting a job and paying down your debt affect the economy, economic actions include things like socially responsible shopping and socially responsible investing. They shift the power balance among businesses, to favor the ones that live by the Golden Rule 2.0 themselves.

Another adjustment is realism. For instance, if you drive a car, it would be impossible to take the mixture of gases that come out of the exhaust pipe and undo each chemical reaction. Later, cleaner engines may be created, but realistically, right now we can undo the damage of the major gases.  One example is compensating for the carbon dioxide produced in your engine by planting trees.

Dare to Live the Final State of Affairs

Another adjustment has to do with a problem of measurement. In three life-support systems—relationships, psyche and in the ethical/spiritual realm—the idea of putting back what you take becomes a matter of judgment and cannot be precisely measured. For instance, you can’t measure your mental state the way you can track your bank account balance. In these three areas, an alternate rule of thumb is to “Dare to live the final state of affairs.”

These words come from Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who was speaking about personal relationships. For instance, he would say that if you want the other person in a relationship to be more open, you must be more open—first. If you want more generosity, you must be more generous. In other words, keep daring to take steps in the direction of a balanced, harmonious state. Rohr’s words can be applied not only to personal relationships, but also to one’s mind, and to all the other systems.

So, to sum up, the Golden Rule 2.0 is a new rule for humanity: Put back into each of the eight systems more than you take out, and dare to live closer to the balanced state.

Since the original Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the new Golden Rule is in the spirit of the original, but it announces a higher standard.

Here’s why this upgrade is now needed in human history. Two thousand years ago, or even two hundred years ago, most interactions were personal. People related face to face. All business interactions were personal. Even passing others on the byways on horseback or in buggies was almost personal. People personally knew most of the people who lived around them. So the original version of the Golden Rule covered most interactions.

In this century, most interactions are impersonal. We talk to strangers on the phone. We usually don’t watch live entertainers, we watch them on TV or the internet. If we drive, it is past thousands of people each day. We deal with few people directly, but we can deal directly with the life-support systems that keep people alive. We deal with government, the environment, and many people in need indirectly through paying taxes, not polluting, and making donations respectively. The Golden Rule 2.0 is an upgrade over the original Golden Rule; it’s a broader definition of what constitutes fairness. It’s needed now, because our vital life-support systems are becoming more imbalanced and more likely to reach life-destroying tipping points.The old definition is no longer adequate.

Around 1988, Tim Cimino created an assessment that covers the eight life-support systems. It’s called the Ecological Lifestyle Assessment. Over the years, most of the people who took it and who believed that they lived according to the Golden Rule were surprised or shocked by how far they fell short of the Golden Rule 2.0. Most of them came to realize that any volunteer work they did really didn’t fully make up for what they took from the stability of other life-support systems. If you take the assessment and find out that you fall short too, you shouldn’t feel guilty for taking more than you give. Instead, you should realize that if it took years to develop you current lifestyle habits, you should allow yourself years to change these habits—for instance, by changing one or two habits every four months. You should give yourself permission to make reasonable stretches over time.

Following the Golden Rule 2.0 is harder that following the original Golden Rule since you have to monitor your impact on each of our life-support systems. But it will be worth it, because when more people begin to follow the 2.0 upgrade of the Golden Rule, much suffering and loss of life will be prevented. In addition, we will have greater peace, health and security.

The most common objection to the Golden Rule 2.0 comes from people who do a lot of good in one area and want to be excused from having to act in the other areas. They actually have a point. For example, would it really be efficient for a heart surgeon to take time to learn all about socially responsible investments; or would it be the best use of time for a key political activist to do her own recycling? Our thinking is that everyone should take responsibility, but do it intelligently. For instance, the surgeon could pay someone to do the socially responsible investing. The activist could “swap” good deeds—taking on some of someone else’s political activism if that person does their recycling. Of course, some actions are not transferable. For instance, no one can work on your health and personal relationships for you.

Another objection to the Golden Rule 2.0 is that it burdens people with a hundred more “shoulds” or commandments. Here again, common sense is needed. If you took ten or twenty years as you grew up to learn certain lifestyle habits, give yourself a few years to change these habits. If you make a Life Pact (set of goals) about every four months, and make just one or two major changes during each Life Pact, you would accomplish a tremendous amount in three or four years.

One more idea will help you understand how not to be overwhelmed by the requirements of the Golden Rule 2.0:

Imagine that you are in a boat on a lake, and the boat has a slow leak. One way to stay afloat is to keep bailing water; the other way is to plug the leak. Bailing water doesn’t change the structure of the boat, but plugging the leak does. Each of the eight life-support systems is similar to the boat. For instance, if a personal relationship of yours is having major problems, you can try temporary fixes (e.g., buying a present to make up for a fight) but temporary fixes don’t change the structure of the relationship.

A better approach is to find a permanent strategy, by figuring out what’s wrong, and by either learning a needed skill, such as active listening or conflict resolution, or by instituting a regular process, such as weekly setting aside quality time to be together. All other life-support systems are similar: You can make temporary fixes, or permanent structural changes. Often both kinds of changes are needed.

The Golden Rule 2.0 encourages us to put back at least as much as we take from each life-support system, but is that enough? We recommend that people strive to put in more than they take out, because in real systems there are “frictional” losses and structural inefficiencies. “Enough” also depends on what others are doing or not doing. Until more precise estimates can be made, let’s suggest 10% extra as a way of recognizing that real systems are not 100% efficient.

Some people balk at this record keeping. But remember, when people care about something, they keep track of it. We tend to keep track of the money in our accounts, the gas in our gas tanks, and the food in our pantry. That’s because it’s important to us to have enough; and it creates significant problems and embarrassment if we run out. But maintaining our common life-support systems is at least as important as the other monitoring that we do.

Many related questions can be raised: Shouldn’t all organizations also follow the Golden Rule 2.0? What about the people who can’t or won’t do their share? What about government; aren’t we paying taxes to have these things done? The answers to questions like these are probably a blend of fairness and realism: Yes, organizations should also follow the Golden Rule 2.0. Yes, some people can’t or won’t do their share, and so adjustments must be made. Yes, we pay taxes for government to do some of these things, but if we don’t vote or do advocacy, our tax money will probably be misspent.

Even with these and other adjustments, the Golden Rule 2.0 is still a valid and much-needed upgrade of the original Golden Rule. We can visualize the tables collapsing, or we can visualize strengthening the table legs so that the foundation for our lives is firm, secure and beautiful.

Status:  Three teaching stories, The Dam, Anvils, and Suddenly You’re In Debt up to the Moon have been created to help people emotionally grasp the consequences of not adopting the Golden Rule 2.0. An assessment, the Ecological Lifestyle Assessment, has also been created that covers the eight areas of the Two-Tables Model.

Potential Impact: This could help update people’s consciences for the 21st century. As mentioned before, it gives most people a rough understanding of how much action and what kind of action is enough to maintain the world. It can help inspire more balanced and more intensive efforts.


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