Most of us are convinced that the Golden Rule holds the secret to a good life. Many of my clients live by it, no matter their religion. How can you go wrong if you do unto others, as you would have them do unto you?

My youngest son asked me about this rule one time, parodying the most common interpretation: “So mommy, does that mean if I give you a dollar, you’ll give me a hundred dollars?” At the time he was saving for an electric guitar. If I remember, I ended up with four one-dollar bills and he, the $400 guitar.

I’ve made the same mistake, over and over. I reason that, “If I’m nice unto this person, he or she will be nice unto me.” The problem is that we can’t control others’ behavior through our own. If someone wants to be problematic, pushy, angry, or cruel, that’s his or her decision. It’s not open to popular vote and seldom, our personal protest. This line of reasoning suggests that the Universe resembles a gigantic slot machine. In goes a wish – out comes what we want.

Isn’t this idea somewhat similar in concept to The Secret or the Law of Abundance? Both spiritual motifs assume that we can get what we want (or change others) through positive thinking. I’ve seen the tragic results of this insane assertion.

My client Martha serves as an example. A born-again Christian, she spent fifty years with an abusive husband. She stayed because her church congregation insisted that her and her patience, fortitude, and prayers, reflective of the Golden Rule, would present him an appealing model.

On his deathbed, her husband “gave his life to Christ.” The church members were thrilled; her lifetime of godliness had proven irresistible. She had won her husband a place in heaven. I, however, saw it differently. In front of her pastor, I blurted out the observation that this poor woman’s life was a study in heartbreak. She had “lost” fifty years to an abusive man when she might have spent those fifty years with a kind, loving husband-or exploring her own well being.

I know I’m stretching grammar. Read differently, the Golden Rule isn’t suggesting that we give to get, even though many people approve that interpretation. It could also be translated this way: “Treat others in a good way no matter how they are treating us.” This attitude shifts the reward from external to internal, a definite improvement by any spiritual measurement. But is this approach really practical, at least all of the time?

Years ago I worked with a mother of two children. She was married to an alcoholic who was physically and emotionally abusive to she and her children. Her priest insisted that it was wrong for her to leave her husband under any condition. Rather she should invoke the Golden Rule and treat him with honor and respect because that is the right way to be, regardless of the others’ behavior.

I asked her if a loving God would really condone the abuse of a child. She said “of course not.” I then asked why she did. By remaining with this man she was implying that God approved of child abuse, not only of “the little ones,” but also of herself, a child of God. While she didn’t need to be “mean” to him, was it necessary or ethical to sacrifice herself and her children in order to be “nice”?

I’m an intuitive consultant and energy healer. I don’t pretend to be a priest, pastor, rabbi, or spiritual guru. I’m not in the “habit” of wearing habits. The only halo I’ll be handed in Heaven (if I get there) will be a bottle of Clairol Ultra Blonde; the only wings, the ones the pilots pin on your coat when you’re flying the friendly skies. I do know, however, that the Golden Rule must sometimes be qualified by what I call the Brass Tacks rule, which is this:

When in doubt, do what’s smart.

In other words, how about applying the simple doctrine of common sense.

The truth is that being “only nice” doesn’t always pay or make sense. It certainly doesn’t always give us what we want – and it shouldn’t.

What use is a gift if we have to manipulate to get it? But neither is “being nice” always “good.” By allowing themselves to be depreciated, my clients were supporting denigration. What might have happened if the first woman had refused to suffer abuse? Her life would have improved and perhaps, her husband’s also. He might have examined the issues underlying his behaviors. When we allow abuse, we perpetuate the belief that cruelty wins. When we tolerate abuse or negativity, we affirm the very things we decry. We, weirdly enough, distort the Golden Rule.

There are a lot of ways to react to wrongness. Sometimes we have to change our own behavior so as to stop stirring up trouble. Perhaps we must exact consequences on the other – or ourselves, if we’re the one acting inappropriately. If we’re not powerful enough to establish and maintain affirming boundaries, we might need the help of an authority. Sometimes, however, we have to follow the lead of common sense, such as illustrated by my youngest son.

Gabe made an interesting observation about his dog Honey, who knows how to take care of himself when there’s danger afoot. “Mom, if he hears the toy gun cranking (and believe me, the ‘toy gun’ is closer to an Uzi than a Nerf shooter), he does one of two things. He either puts his head down and keeps walking or runs away like the wind.”