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.

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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?

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Excerpted from Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted by Kristi Nelson, (Storey Publishing, 2020)

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Love is Transformative
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Kristi Nelson

Kristi Nelson

Executive Director

About the author
Kristi Nelson is Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living and the author of Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. Her life’s work in the non-profit sector has focused on leading, inspiring, and strengthening organizations committed to progressive social and spiritual change. Being a long-time stage IV cancer survivor moves her every day to support others in living and loving with great fullness of heart. Learn more about Kristi here.