We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship. ~ Harville Hendrix
Many of us were taught the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This maxim was often dictated by parents or teachers who sought to corral selfish behavior in children, and to inspire their generosity and gratitude. But the Golden Rule is tricky. It assumes our needs and longings are universal and that everyone around us shares our desires for how they want to be treated.
Of course, it won’t hurt to follow the Golden Rule — focusing on offering more of the appreciation and respect we want can be a good thing — but assuming sameness and doing to others what we want done to us is no assurance of golden relationships. It could actually make them leaden.
The Golden Rule can become the “Grateful Rule” if we turn it around to say: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. This now becomes an exercise in tuning in to another person with care and curiosity rather than projecting our own needs and desires on people. If we give others what we want, we not only miss the chance for meaningful connection but also repeatedly try to make others feel our care and never hit their mark — never awaken possibility for them. Never touch their heart. And never give rise to the truly grateful feelings that nurture our connections.
Each human being we encounter has a profoundly distinct history that shaped who they are and what matters and is meaningful to them…
Instead, we can recognize the interesting differences between us. Each human being we encounter has a profoundly distinct history that shaped who they are and what matters and is meaningful to them, especially people who come from backgrounds very different from ours. The things that bring a sense of hurt and invisibility, or love and possibility, are simply not the same for everyone. Welcome this awareness of difference rather than resting in the reassurances of sameness.
If we want to offer genuine care, we must be willing to ask generative questions, such as “What matters most to you?” or “What do you need right now?” And then listen very attentively. In asking these kinds of illuminating questions, we lean in. We literally turn toward the other person without an agenda and move our hearts closer, softened to receive. We listen not only with our ears but by attuning ourselves completely to the presence of the other person in all of their mystery and magic. We put down our projections so as to be available to whatever emerges. Not only are we sitting in front of someone who is different from us, but in a thousand small ways they are not even the same person they were yesterday. In not taking someone for granted, we invite them to continually show up, changed. This is hallowed territory. And it is a profound blessing when someone offers themselves this way.
We do not need to have all the answers, but we have to truly want closeness in order to experience and unleash the blessings of connection.
There are so many possibilities to transform our relationships if we are willing to stay curious, admit how little we know, and how much there is to learn. We do not need to have all the answers, but we have to truly want closeness in order to experience and unleash the blessings of connection. It is making these kinds of meaningful connections, especially to love and learn from people who are different from us, which will help bring needed healing to our lives and world.
We become agents of change when we allow our hearts to open and inquire. But grateful living leads to healing only if we respond based on what we hear. We need to demonstrate through words and actions that we hold what we learn from and about others as sacred. It is what we say and do with this information that will awaken the true possibilities — and transformative power — of love.
Q: In which relationships could you foster deeper connection by practicing the Grateful Rule instead of the Golden Rule?
Q: How might the Grateful Rule help you appreciate people with different experiences and perspectives than yours?
Excerpted from Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted by Kristi Nelson, (Storey Publishing, 2020)
We invite you to share your reflections below.
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My perpetual challenge in life seems to be around listening and refraining from offering my opinion or judgement. This piece was a great reminder that although we all need the same thing ie love, security, connection…we need it in different ways and that can’t be offered without listening and surrendering our ego and need to fix a person or a situation. Simple yet profound like many of our life lessons.
Thank you Neil. What beautiful self-awareness you share! Recognizing that we all basically need the same things but in very different forms and ways helps us relate with curiosity and compassion rather than our opinions! A much better formula for forging strong and interesting relationships!
I am a “fixer” by nature, and I bring this tendency to relationships. I’m now seeing this as making situations about me, instead of about them or about us. The fact is, I don’t know what someone else needs unless I ask them and they choose to respond.
A relationship is not a leaky faucet or a squeaky hinge.
The Grateful Rule sounds like a much more positive approach to me than does trying to figure out on my own what someone else needs.
Thanks for your insightful reflection Jody. I love what you say about a relationship not being a leaky faucet or squeaky hinge. How wonderful to recognize that asking, listening and responding takes the guesswork and missed opportunities out of showing people our care! And then it does not force others in our lives to be chronically leaky or squeaky to try to get their needs met – a fixer’s dream!
Many years ago while working as part of a retreat team, when we arrived at the retreat center to begin leading a retreat, our spiritual director use to remind us that “there is nothing more real than a relationship.” Kristi, your words bring new meaning to his admonition.
Thank you so much Carol. It is true that so much that is “real” comes alive in relationship. I am not sure if I agree that there is absolutely nothing more real, but there is certainly almost no place where whatever is real is more revealed to us than in relationship!! And relationship is also where we are honored to glimpse the “real” in another. What a gift to have the container of relationships to learn to love, and continue to grow in love.
Hi Kristi, Your response reminded me of the words of my mentor of 27 years…not the same person who I quoted yesterday. My mentor reminded me often that integration was our main job. He would say, “You are here to integrate your insides and your outsides.” So many years ago when he first uttered those words to me I did not understand how important the relationship with oneself is. I’ve learned that I lied to myself a lot and the religious tradition I was raised in approved ! Over the years I’ve learned that the life giving question is not “Who is God?” For me, it’s “Who am I?” The famous quote “Know Thyself” reigns with me. I doubt that we can truly touch what it means to be real without working on that relationship. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations this week are on working with our “shadow.” They brought me a deeper understanding of my mentor’s words uttered so many years ago.