Don't buy into it. Just…don't, okay?
Trust me on this. I know that advice has permeated throughout the ages and that in itself implies that there's something to it, but it's actually a terrible idea. Don't get me wrong - the underlying intention is great: it suggests that because we would want nothing but the best for ourselves, that's what we should do for others…because, simply put, it would be the unselfish thing to do, and it would nice for them, and that ultimately would make the world a better place.
But what's nice for you isn't necessarily so for others, is it? (I'm looking at you, peanut butter haters).
So there, it's settled then.
But what if I told you that it was outright dangerous to live that way?
Let's be frank: we want to be treated like gods. We want to be coddled and loved and looked out for, and when we do that for other people, we start expecting it in return. The 'treat others as you would like to be treated' adage doesn't have any clauses about expecting others to treat you the same way, but be honest - it happens anyway. When you bend over backwards while traveling to the moon for someone else, somewhere within you begin to expect that they'd do the same for you.
At this point I'll state that if you have attained nirvana or possess the switch to turn off all expectations, stop reading - this entire article is meaningless then. But if you're anything like me, and you think that people who reciprocate your efforts are an exception rather than the rule, walk with me a little further.
All dishes flavored with expectation taste the same: painful. Let's be clear, this is the kind of pain doesn't hurt as it would when you step on a Lego™ where after a brief moment of immense pain it fades away, but it's more like getting your fingertips burnt. It hurts when you touch the flame, and it continues to do so till thick callosities form.
The danger with that sort of disappointment is, it starts to erode away at your self-image. The simple question of 'I did this for them, why wouldn't they do this for me?' initiates a spiral downhill:
'Was I asking for too much? Am I too demanding and difficult a person?'
'Am I not good enough for someone to want to do this for me?'
'Is there something wrong with me because it bothers me this much?'
'If I were doing more with myself and my life, I wouldn't invest so much in people, right? That means I'm not doing enough with myself! Good God, I'm good for nothing aren't I?'
Do you see now? It's dangerous to have expectations, and the 'treat others as you would like to be treated' model is a surefire way to give birth to them.
I'm not going to try to convince you that becoming your own worst enemy is a bad idea. There's wisdom in seeing rock bottom as a solid foundation; not so much in digging yourself into a pit to get there.
What then, is the way forward?
Honestly, there's no one answer. But I've found it works best for me to treat people in a way that I feel would be right, and in the best possible way I can in that moment.
So, not taking huge detours every time something comes up (note: I'm not saying don't ever go out of your way for people. Be nice sometimes, okay?). Not using 'it won't kill me to do this, so why not' as a guiding principle. Not asking 'will this make them feel good?' and 'considering everything that's ever transpired between us, I should do this, right?', but rather, questioning 'what's convenient to me right now? Will my conscience rest easy if I do it this way?'
I've found that it frees me from the chains of expectation. There's an intrinsic reward in this route, I feel, because one then knows they've done something decent, and because they've wanted to, and because they could. The satisfaction comes from ultimately doing what one wanted to, but within the confines of 'acceptable to my conscience'.
It is my hope you'll find and embrace that in those moments of absolute silence with not a whisper in the air, the only person you've got is you. And if the inner you is satisfied that (s)he's done right by this world, that's all you need.