Pee Wee Herman on the Ethic of Reciprocity, i.e. the Golden Rule


If you ever watched the timeless 1980s kid’s show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, you are acutely aware of the Golden Rule. Couched in Pee Wee Herman’s psychedelic house full of talking furniture and his wacky friends was the idea that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. This is an indispensable lesson for children, but is it a really intended for adults?

The Golden Rule relies on the ethic of reciprocity – a two-way relationship where you and another maintain a mutual understanding of each other’s wants, needs, quirks, etc. This involves self-awareness, empathy, and an understanding of social norms. A certain amount of reciprocity is required for any society to maintain order, but Golden is too limiting.

Let’s use me as an example. I am not one to need much attention. An infrequent pat on the back is fine. But I know many people who crave constant approval. They thrive on one-on-one time; it’s what motivates them to come to work every day. This is not a bad thing; we simply have different needs. So how disgruntled will they be when I treat them the way I want to be treated?

Therefore, I’d like to propose an ethical code for the more emotionally-advanced individual – the Platinum Rule. It states that we treat others better than we would like to be treated. We move beyond the bare minimum of needs we require to meet others at their level of need.

Pee Wee Herman taunted people with his signature line, “I know you are, but what am I?” When you enact the Platinum Rule ask, “I know I am, but what are you?” Learn more about the people you speak with everyday. Visualize their daily goals, struggles, and motivators. Then personalize the ways you communicate with them. Funny thing about an ethic of reciprocity, when you treat people better, they tend to reciprocate.

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