Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Platinum Rule

Ever heard of The Platinum Rule?

"Treat others the way they want to be treated."

Hmm, you're thinking. It sounds kind of familiar, but there's something just a little off, isn't there?

The Platinum Rule is one of those behavioral style assessments that Human Resources departments are so wild about nowadays. And it perfectly illustrates the point I've made time and time again about the insidious nature of Corporate America, about the growing influence of New Age philosophy in HR departments, and why we ought to be concerned about these trends.

The Platimum Rule is the brainstorm of one Dr. Tony Alessandra, who describes it as follows:

We have all heard of the Golden Rule - and many people aspire to live by it. The Golden Rule is not a panacea. Think about it: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Golden Rule implies the basic assumption that other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated.

Ah yes, after two thousand years or so, we discover that the Golden Rule (which comes from the Beatitudes, Luke 6:31) just isn't good enough anymore. Alessandra goes on to say "The Platinum Rule accommodates the feelings of others. The focus of relationships shifts from 'this is what I want, so I'll give everyone the same thing' to 'let me first understand what they want and then I'll give it to them.' "

OK, so The Platinum Rule is not some new type of credit card. It's a new way of thinking about life. "Treat others the way they want to be treated." This would be laughable if one treated this with the seriousness which it deserved (or rather, the way in which it wants to be treated). Just think about it for a moment. If I'm a criminal, woudn't I want people to treat me with leniency when I'm captured? Therefore, shouldn't you give me a free pass out of jail?

And that's only the beginning. Suppose you walked into your bosses office this morning and told him, "Boss, I want to be treated like the CEO of the company. From now on, I think you should do what I tell you to do. Now that you understand what I want, don't you think you should give it to me?" He'll give it to you, all right, and pretty soon his HR department's going to be using The Platinum Rule to assess the person taking over your job.

At the very least, Alessandra shows that he really doesn't understand the depth of the Golden Rule, at the layers which go into its true meaning - Tobit 4:15, "What you hate, do not do to anyone," for example. I'd suspect that Christ (who fulfilled the Old Testament, after all) might possibly have been familiar with this passage. If you read this into the Golden Rule, as most sensible people do, then most of Alessandra's arguments fall apart. And as for treating people the way they want to be treated, as St. Augustine pointed out, we must "do many things against the will" of certain people, because they need to be "punished with a certain kind of harshness." (For that passage, thanks to Robert Louis Wilken's review in the November First Things of Robert Dodaro's Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine.)

If people really did laugh this ridiculous theory into oblivion, then we wouldn't have much trouble. Alessandra would be a stand-up comedian, since he succeeded so spectacularly at making people laugh at him, and we'd be on our merry way.

But that isn't the case. This guy writes books, has a speaker's bureau, and influences HR departments and corporate executives. A quick Google of "The Platinum Rule" shows it appearing at sites of groups such as the "School for Champions" that provide keys on how you can "increase your performance" in both your business and your personal life. The subtitle of Alessandra's book is "Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities -- and How They Can Lead You to Success." (In fact, its classification is under "Business & Money") It boasts that you too can:
  • Predict the behavior of others and adapt your own for the best possible outcome
  • Identify the many "mixtures" -- people whose styles embrace more than one type
  • Get people together who enhance each other's potential -- for dynamic work groups, a better balanced staff, better company-client relations, and more "sell by style" -- using five essential Platinum Rule steps
  • Defuse conflict and dissatisfaction -- and boost energy, productivity, and profits.
In other words, everything that the modern HR department looks to maximize. Ah, they must love this stuff.

I think my favorite sentence of all, the one that really crystalizes what this is all about, is the one that The Platinum Rule "accommodates the feelings of others." And of course there's the key. In this day and age where we can't offend anyone, where we have to be sensitive to the point of banality, when we serve our love with soft edges so as to not hurt anyone's feelings, it's natural that something like this would catch on. And it's particularly appropriate that HR departments would adopt it for their "diversity" training programs.

We all know that the principal of diversity, as preached by HR, is that everything is equal, that all philosophies, all cultures, all ethical standards, are equally valid. (Look no further than the "Diversity Luncheon" that we encounter every December as proof of this.) Benedict XVI, as Joseph Ratzinger, spoke of the dictatorship of relativism, and the ideas contained in The Platinum Rule are prime examples of this school of thought.

This kind of thing really is dangerous. As Fr. Mitch Pacwa has pointed out, new-age personality tests such as the enneagram are directly contrary to Catholic teaching. And I'm always suspicious of anyone who tries to improve on Jesus' teachings - "well, that Jesus guy, he had some good things to say, but his statements aren't a panacea, you know."

We shouldn't be surprised that this kind of thinking would be popular in Corporate America, where over the last hundred years or so we've seen religion go from being recognized (Christmas Day as a vacation) to tolerated (well, you can have Good Friday off, but you have to take a vacation day) to shunned (no Christmas decorations in the workplace) to scorned (schoolteachers who can't wear green or red during December) to out-and-out hated (employees fired for failing to toe the corporate line on celebrating homosexual "diversity"). (Of course it's no wonder that HR departments are apprehensive toward religion; after all, in God they see a rival to the control they presume to have over the employee's life.) Perhaps Augustine has the answer for why so many people in the workplace seem unhappy, for in looking at the Psalm verse, "Happy the people whose God is the Lord," he concludes, "It follows that a people alienated from that God must be wretched."

It's hard to know how much of a point to put on this; you'd like to think that people can see through this kind of rubbish, but Corporate America has a way of jumping onboard the latest trends, and The Platinum Rule is certainly sexy enough to cause executives to salivate. It reeks of political correctness, which makes it a prize of any HR department - well, not any, because I actually know one or two that take their jobs quite seriously. And it provides another way of assessing personality types that dehumanizes the individual.

But in the end, I get uncomfortable with someone who tries to trump Christ. It's really kind of a zero-sum game, like trying to outdo your Boss. One can imagine Jesus slapping His head, thinking to Himself, "The Platinum Rule! Why didn't I think of that?" And Alessandra, like all ambitious people, should fear the consequences of this game of oneupsmanship. Because when this Boss calls you to His office, it's a one-way trip. And being dismissed from His presence is eternal.

Originally published October 21, 2005

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