So you think you’re a good person?

Read this. Then re-evaluate.

​The Golden Rule: Treat others how you would want to be treated.

The Silver Rule: Don’t treat others as you don’t want to be treated.

You could live your life via these rules. Many aspire to.

What both rules have in common is symmetry. Our conduct towards others is equal to their conduct towards us.

You’d also think that, not just our actions towards each other, but our judgements should share this symmetry. Shouldn’t we judge others how we would ourselves wish to be judged?

We should. But we don’t.

Our judgement is asymmetrical in two ways.

The first asymmetry concerns how we favourably view and applaud others. It requires more evidence and more time to applaud others than it does to applaud ourselves.

The second asymmetry concerns how we condemn others. We need more evidence and time to condemn ourselves than we do to condemn others.

These two biases in our judgement are natural. We cannot rid ourselves of them any more than we can rid ourselves of jealousy and anger. But we can limit their impact.

I was reviewing a book called Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to his Son this morning. A few gems I came across:

On talking a good game:

​“A man who does big things is too busy to talk about them. When the jaws really need exercise, chew gum.”

On feedback from others:

​“There are two things you never want to pay any attention too — abuse and flattery. The first can’t harm you and the second can’t help you.”

​On delaying happiness:

​“With most people happiness is something that is always just a day off. But I have made it a rule never to put off being happy till to-morrow. Don’t accept notes for happiness, because you’ll find that when they’re due they’re never paid, but just renewed for another thirty days.”

​On being nosy:

​“… a man’s first duty is to mind his own business. It’s been my experience that it takes about all the thought and work which one man can give to run one man right, and if a fellow’s putting in five or six hours a day on his neighbour’s character, he’s mighty apt to scamp the building of his own.”

​I also came across a useful heuristic for comparing ourselves with others:

​“… when you’re through sizing up the other fellow, it’s a good thing to step back from yourself and see how you look. Then add fifty percent to your estimate of your neighbour for virtues that you can’t see, and deduct fifty percent from yourself for faults that you’ve missed in your inventory, and you’ll have a pretty accurate result.”

​We applaud ourselves and our own actions quicker than those of others. We condemn others quicker than we condemn ourselves. These are the asymmetries in our judgement.

Reverse them.

It’s better to overestimate others and underestimate yourself than to do the opposite.

The former gives people a standard to live up to. The latter ensures you don’t become a braggart. Which is good because the world doesn’t need another loudmouth who thinks he’s better than everyone else.


Originally published at www.phronetic.co.uk.