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If it's good for the goose...?

Objectivity is hard to come by.  Our nation and our culture are premised on the concept of fair play.  Our system of laws, even the word "justice" is grounded in the concept of equality before the law, hence lady justice's blindfold.  And personally, in healthy relationships we seek parity, honesty and integrity.

Desiring fairness, seeking justice, and striving for integrity is all well and good, but given the often overwhelming temptation to determine what is right based upon what already conforms to our notions of rightness, how can we best ensure that we aren't deluding our actions and conclusions with our pre-determined outcomes?  How can we do more than desire, seek and strive?  How can we deliver? This is where objectivity comes in.

Objectivity is about establishing a process to ensure the least unbiased analysis. Without objectivity you wind up like the US Supreme Court's current approach to States' Rights: they  only matters when the State agrees with the Justice. Creating a process to adhere to objectivity is a bit like following the scientific method. There must be a system of checking the result against some normative value, some constant.  Since the question, the issue itself is not constant, the value must be sub-issue so that the value is always applicable, always operating on the issues presented. Objectivity is one such bed rock, i.e. immutable value.  

The objective approach, the litmus test to gauge objectivity is the "good for the goose, good for the gander" approach.  In other words, if you believe it is right to do something, does it remain right when it is done to you?

One application of this approach is the consideration of alimony.  We can create a scenario in which we would agree that a wife should receive alimony. Perhaps it is a long term marriage.  Perhaps the husband's earnings substantially exceeds the wife's.  Perhaps he is moving on to another relationship.  We could agree that the wife should receive alimony.

But does our assessment of the rightness of an award of alimony change when we change the gender?  If we consider the husband as the possible recipient of alimony do we come to a different result?  Trully, in this context, if it is good for the goose, is it good for the gander?"


Another opportunity to test for objectivity occurs in an argument between spouses.  One spouse may be caustic, perhaps sarcastic, perhaps demeaning. Perhaps one spouse puts substantial financial limitations on the other.  The true test of the fairness or integrity of this spouse's conduct, the objective rightness or wrongness, is to shift the roles.  How would the caustic spouse receive the same treatment?  Humbly?  Graciously? Probably not.

It should always be fair play for a receiving spouse to ask their partner, "May I treat you the same way?  May I say the same things?"  If the delivering spouse's answer is "no," you have the result of the objective test.  There is no fairness, no integrity, no objectivity. 

If it is good for the goose, it has to be good for the gander.  And vice versa.

So if you are the receiving spouse, ask the questions.  If you are the delivering spouse, consider the questions.  Let objectivity be your guide.

Further, if philosophy is not your thing, you can turn to other time honored texts to find a different approach that yields the same result just expressed in a different way, some variant of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Judaism: "What is harmful to you, do not to your fellow man.  That is the entire law;  all the rest is commentary."  Talmud Shabbat 312

Buddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful" Udana-Varga 5, 18

Christianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12

Hinduism: This is the turn of duty; do naught unto others which could cause you pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5, 1517

Islam: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." Sunnah

Confucianism: "Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto other that you would not have them do unto you." Analects, 15, 23 

It is the law and the way of our world religions.  It is the ethical way of our culture.  It is the sound and reasoned approach of our law.  Be good to each other, even as you would have good done for you.

Michael Manely

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