Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Protect Yourself From a Sociopath in the Office

Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now Part 6

In the last post, I argued that The Golden Rule, which states that we should consider and incorporate the needs of other people before we take action, is a universal value.  But in my opinion, the Golden Rule is not sufficient as a guideline.  If we only consider the needs of other people, we risk losing sight of the needs of the most important person, oneself.  What is more, not everyone follows the Golden Rule, which can be a surprise to those who do.  “Simon,” a director at a mid-sized corporation in the Midwest, shared his experience with me.

“I was at a management offsite, a touchy feely thing.  I brought up the Golden Rule, [as a model for how to interact with others.] One guy said ‘that doesn’t work for me, because I don’t care how I am treated.’ He was almost sociopathic about it.  He would do what it took to get ahead. It wasn’t like he was even trying to hide it. That just amazed me that there were people out there like that.”   Simon discovered that he had been operating according to a different set of values than some of his coworkers.  Could the person he was referring to actually have been a sociopath?

A sociopath is someone who does not have a conscience, and according to Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, up to 4% the population could fit the clinical definition of a sociopath.  And treating a sociopath “as you would like to be treated” is a recipe to be taken advantage of at best, and inviting disaster at worst.

Ok, maybe talking about sociopaths is a bit extreme, but I am trying to illustrate a point: while The Golden Rule is a universal value, it is not sufficient to cover every circumstance.  So I have another rule I live by – the “Don’t Be a Doormat Rule.”  I also call it the Rule of Self-Preservation.  Simply put, it says that you have a duty to look out for your own welfare, because if you don’t, who will?  In the next chapter, we will begin to examine corporations and company-first values.  And sometimes, putting the company first runs counter to the Rule of Self-Preservation.

What do you think of the Rule of Self-Preservation?  Here is a table of quotes that support the position.

Quotes that support The Rule of Self Preservation

Natural law includes our right to self-preservation and forbids humans from taking actions destructive to their own lives. Thomas HobbesLeviathan
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Declaration of Independence
Chi pensa per se, pensa per tre.Anyone who thinks for himself things for three. Italian proverb, similar to He who looks after himself will be able to look after his/her family.
Put on your [oxygen] mask before assisting others Airline safety instruction
If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg.[i] The Dali Lama, answering a question about self defense.
“Pray for what you want, but work for the things you need.”“What is done for you – allow it to be done.
What you must do yourself – make sure you do it.”
Essential Sufism retrieved 3/21/2012
Keep five yards from a carriage, ten yards from a horse, and a hundred yards from an elephant; but the distance one should keep from a wicked man cannot be measured. Indian Proverb

[i] Bernton, Hal (15 May 2001). “Dalai Lama urges students to shape the world”. Retrieved 29 Feb 2012.

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  1. I’m particularly keen on the Platinum rule — Treat others the way they want to be treated. That way, you won’t be put into a position that might compromise your position.

    I feel that self preservation should go before the Golden Rule simply because the only person that is really looking out for you, well, is you. You really can’t look after others until you have looked after yourself.

    • Greg Marcus says

      Thanks Jarie. The Platinum rule is an interesting addition, and a good one if you can figure out how another person wants to be treated. I should add it to the list. For me personally, I find that really hard, because I am not always sure what I want, so trying to figure out what someone else wants … As I write this, I realize that I am overanalyzing. All of these different formulations are human attempts to express the same idea – to put yourself in the place of the other, to have compassion for another’s feelings, and to try to do right by them.

      • Greg Marcus says

        Through the magic of WordPress, I have updated the table in the previous post to include the Platinum Rule.

        Do you know another version of The Golden Rule? Please comment here or after that post and I’ll add it to the table.

        And if you have a quote that supports (or refutes) the Rule of Self Preservation, I’d love to hear that too!

  2. Greg Marcus says

    This post was originally titled “The Search For Fundamental Universal Values III: The Rule Of Self Preservation.” Thanks to everyone who gave me feedback on the post, especially my reviewers at The Mechanics Institute.

  3. This is pretty powerful stuff, but like you said, it doesn’t work as people will take advantage and not give. The reason is due to the environment where there is scarcity or feelings of scarcity. This is quite evident in China where the overcrowding and lack of resources (or feeling of lack of resources from the past that is hard to forget) drives very selfish behavior.


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