Beyond the Golden Rule

I am still catching up with unread blogs, but I want to add something to Mary Abraham’s commendation of the Golden Rule as the key to collaboration. As the Wikipedia entry on the Rule suggests (at the moment), it can be the cause of problems when there are differences in values or interests:

Shaw’s comment about differing tastes suggests that if your values are not shared with others, the way you want to be treated will not be the way they want to be treated. For example, it has been said that a sadist is just a masochist who follows the golden rule. Another often used example of this inconsistency is that of the man walking into a bar looking for a fight. It could also be used by a seducer to suggest that he should kiss an object of his affection because he wants that person to kiss him.

I was not alone in admiring the late Jon Postel, perhaps the quietest genius behind the creation and early management of the Internet. One of his lasting legacies, sometimes forgotten in the rush for innovation, is found in the heart of one of the basic definitions of the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol, RFC 793:

TCP implementations will follow a general principle of robustness: be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.

I have found this a useful general principle for human communications too, even though I sometimes forget it myself. The wheels of collaboration run much more smoothly when one resists enforcing rules against others, whilst maintaining one’s own obedience to the same rules.