What Is the Code You Live By?

What Is the Code You Live By?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

If you had to sum up the code you live by in just a few words, what would you say?

In “‘To Leave the World a Bit Better,’ and Other Codes to Live By,” New York Times readers share the philosophies that guide their lives.

Kristy McCray of Columbus, Ohio, writes about the value of getting to know people in order to treat them the way they wish to be treated:

Many people live by the Golden Rule (treat others as you wish to be treated), but I’ve come to follow the Platinum Rule, which is to treat others as they wish to be treated. Treating others as they wish to be treated requires a willingness to learn about others’ lives.

For example, as an extrovert, I enjoyed talking with my professors, going to office hours and even loved being called on in class. If I treated all of my students the way I wanted to be treated, I would annoy (at best) or alienate some of my introverted, shy or anxious students. Instead of making assumptions to treat them as I’d like to be treated, I get to know students as individuals and treat them as they’d like to be treated, creating a richer learning environment.

Similarly, the Platinum Rule can be useful for white people in this era of racial justice, because it asks us to stop centering our own experiences as the norm. Instead, it asks us to consider how others may experience the world in ways that are unfamiliar to us and be inclusive of experiences that are different from ours.

Dave Dillon of Jefferson City, Mo., keeps it simple:

My philosophy is a very simple one I learned during my Catholic school days and in the Army. Although I don’t always live up to the standard, it has generally served me well: “Always behave as if someone were watching.”

William Dock of Seattle writes about a reminder that our choices affect other people as well as ourselves:

Just inside a harbor on Fidalgo Island, gateway to Washington’s San Juan Islands, I recall seeing a small rectangular sign on the end of a dock declaring “Your Wake Defines You” in red, black and white lettering, intended for boats that create havoc if they pass too quickly. This has also become my mantra.

No matter what I am doing, I always pay attention to the impact my choices have on others — from close relationships to what goes in my trash. If my impact is too destructive, I change course and find another way to achieve my goal — or, when necessary, forgo that goal altogether.

That’s not always easy, for shortcuts are tempting and some opportunities are tough to pass up. And, granted, there are at times impacts that you cannot see. However, if we constantly place value and attention on increasing the benefits that others get from our existence, or on reducing our negative impacts, the world would be a more habitable — and more humane — place.

Stephanie Harrison of Los Angeles finds inspiration in a passage from a novel for using anger as a tool for change:

A few weeks ago, I picked up (for the third time) Sandra Cisneros’s “The House on Mango Street” and read until I finished the vignette “Four Skinny Trees.” It is about four thin, “raggedy” trees outside the protagonist’s house that inspire her with their angry persistence as they spread “ferocious” roots and branches to the sky.

This vignette helped me understand that anger has guided my life and that I want to keep it that way. I do not mean the tantrums that sent me to discuss my anger issues in the second grade, but harnessing rage I feel as a 15-year-old and using it as a tool to create change in my life. This vignette helped me realize that my anger can be a source of motivation and strength.

I have improved my grades, organization, work ethic, appearance and the amount of joy I have as a result of channeling some of my frustrations into positive changes. Most recently, I joined the Pfizer/BioNTech adolescent vaccine trial to get revenge on Covid. At the core of my achievements is the spark of anger.

Students, read all of the letters to the editor, then tell us:

  • If you were to write a similar letter to the editor about the code by which you live your life, what would it say?

  • Is there a passage from literature, a quote from Scripture, a line or two of poetry, a song lyric, an idea expressed in a memoir or an interview, or any other example of language that serves as a mantra or an inspiration for you? If so, have these words ever contributed to a decision you made or to your understanding of a situation? Explain.

  • Are there any teachings, mottos, sayings or even sentiments you read in memes — or even on bumper stickers — that have brought you insight or comfort at a time when you needed it? Explain.

  • Which person’s code or philosophy, as presented in a letter, most resonates with you? Why?

  • What is the Platinum Rule, as described by Ms. McCray? How might following it lead to different outcomes than following the Golden Rule would? Can you give a real or fictional example of a situation in which you could use the Platinum Rule to lead to a positive outcome for all involved?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.