We all know the Golden Rule in Matthew 7: 12, but sometimes I wonder if we interpret it too literally.
Over the years, I’ve become convinced that what Christ intended was for us to do unto others as they would have us to do. Most of the time this is equivalent to doing to others as we would have them do unto us, but occasionally it’s different.
For example, some of us love surprises. Others who do not. Just because we are among those who love surprises doesn’t mean we should plan a surprise party for a spouse who has told us sincerely and repeatedly that he doesn’t want one, or that he hates being the object of attention. You may know your spouse well enough to know that he would love such a party deep down despite his protests, but I’m pretty sure mine would not (he says there should no “pretty” about it).
As another example, my husband thinks the heel of the bread is an inferior slice, so he avoids it when he makes me a sandwich. I prefer that slice, but I know he’s doing me an intended kindness by avoiding it. When my husband is ill, he likes to go to bed and be left alone. I like to have someone look after me. In the early days of our marriage, this was hard for him to understand.
To some extent, we become set in our ways as we grow older, but with the Lord’s help and a lot of will and work, we can change and improve in our other-centeredness.
If you prefer to have lots of friends around to commemorate important occasions, but your loved one prefers only the immediate family, you may want to refrain from inviting “extras” when it’s his or her celebration. If you prefer to receive gift cards for Christmas but your sister prefers gaily wrapped packages, you probably shouldn’t give her a gift card. If you prefer board games but your husband calls them “boring” games, it may not be wise to assume he’s really itching for a game of Scrabble. If no one but you can make your coffee or tea quite right, keep in mind that others might enjoy being waited on occasionally (even if there’s slightly too much or too little cream).
Many of these examples are trivial, but becoming familiar with the preferences of your loved ones can make you a better friend and family member.
And isn’t this what you would have them do unto you?
Debra Coleman Jeter is a Vanderbilt University professor whose debut young adult novel, The Ticket, is now available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets. She’s published fiction and nonfiction in popular magazines, including Working Woman, New Woman, Self, Home Life, Savvy, Christian Woman, and American Baby. Debra is a co-writer of the screenplay for Jess + Moss, a feature film which premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival and captured several international awards. She lives in Clarksville, Tennessee, with her husband.