Published: 03/27/2023

As an avid reader with ADHD, I find paper books difficult to read due to my mind wandering. Therefore, audio books are the best option for me. Recently, while listening to a science fiction novel about post-humanity after a nuclear war, I came across a fascinating debate. The characters were debating whether the “administrator” of the system was truly a god. During this discussion, I picked up on something interesting about the three different rules: the iron rule, the silver rule, and the golden rule. Although I am not sure about their origin, I thought it would be worth sharing them here.

In the book, what we typically refer to as the golden rule is actually the silver rule, which states, “Treat others how you want to be treated.” The three rules are as follows:

  1. The iron rule: Treat others less powerful then you however you’d like
  2. The silver rule: Treat others how you want to be treated
  3. The golden rule: Treat others how they want to be treated

What’s the difference?

The iron rule is how some people act in this world. This includes criminals, killers, rapists, and others who wield their power over those who are less powerful or less important. This power can be either subtle or destructive.

The silver rule is essentially a redefinition of the golden rule. It is present in almost every major religion, and its basic premise is that if you like being treated kindly, you should be kind to others. However, both the iron rule and the silver rule are focused on oneself, with the aim of avoiding pain or gaining pleasure. The silver rule is essentially a form of tit for tat.

The golden rule, on the other hand, is about treating people the way they want to be treated. It takes into account their feelings, opinions, and concerns. It argues that true morality involves acting in consideration of others.

An example might help (Silver vs Gold)

Suppose you love to eat beef, but your friends are vegetarian. You bring snacks on a hike, including beef jerky and slim jims, just in case your friends get hungry. You offer your friends some of your beef jerky when they get hungry. While this is a kind gesture and an application of the silver rule, it is still somewhat selfish. You did not take your friends’ feelings or preferences into account. Perhaps they are allergic to the beef or the ingredients, and you still packed it.

However, if you also packed some apples, bananas, and a bottle of water for your friends, taking into account their potential lack of preparation, this would be an application of the golden rule. You considered their needs above your own, ensuring that they were taken care of. This is the real golden rule: treating others how they want to be treated.


The Silver rule suggests I should kiss my wife because I want to be kissed. To make her dinner because I want her to make me dinner. To not hit my child because I don’t want to be hit. It’s tit for tat.

The Golden rule, however, says to make my wife’s favorite meal because I love her or she’s had a hard day. The Golden rule says that my son is angry, I should be there to comfort and guide him, to not take the anger personally. The Golden rule says to give a meal to a homeless person who is hungry. It says to help a lady with her car that stopped running at the stop light, even if it makes you late to your appointment. The golden rule is about putting the needs of others above your own needs.

Which rule will you pick to live out today?