Is the Golden Rule Broken?

I have a powerful secret. Years ago I shared it with my daughters, and now you can share it with your kiddos. This secret is so powerful it can control the mouths of middle school kids and harness the behavior of high school students.

Though it only consists of words, it has the potential to ignite world peace.

I learned this secret from a wise person. Her name is Anna-Marie. While in high school, she and her friends vowed to live by a set of values. To ensure their words and actions aligned with those values, they asked themselves–and one another–a secret question.

What’s your motive?

Say it out loud. Listen as the words linger in the air.

What’s your motive?

Whisper it. Can you feel the power?

This simple question is a potent filter that can eliminate hateful words and harmful actions. It can help our tweens and teens recognize negative feelings and choose to handle them in a manner that is emotionally healthy, socially respectable, and admirably mature.

For generations children have been told “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” and parents have invoked the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — so much so that these credos have become cliche’, empty phrases in our kids’ ears that rarely influence words and actions.

What’s your motive? is not a credo or a cliche’. It’s a strategy. The question demands an answer and incites action. Once asked, our children must decide if their motive is positive or negative. Then they must make a choice. To say it–or not to say it? To do it–or not to do it?

Here’s how it works:

A friend confides in our daughter, and she feels compelled to tell the juicy information to her other BFs at the lunch table. But first she asks herself, What’s my motive? The answer: being “in the know” makes her feel important. She chooses to keep quiet.

Our son aced his English essay. He wants to post a picture of it on Instagram, the big fat A+ in plain view to show how brilliant he is. But we taught him to ask, What’s my motive? The answer: self-promotion, an ego boost. He hangs the essay on Mom’s fridge instead.

Our other daughter is crushing on a boy. But that one girl walked with him to every class today. Daughter has a less-than-flattering pic of one girl, and she’s thinking about posting it on Twitter. She pauses to ask, What’s my motive? The answer: jealousy. She deletes the picture from her phone.

Our brilliant son chose to play video games rather than study for a chemistry test. He writes notes on his forearm, so he can push up his hoodie sleeve to cheat–but only if he needs to. Then he asks himself a question. What’s my motive? The answer: to be the best, no matter the cost. He takes his C- and studies for the next test.

Motive is a powerful thing. Unchecked, it can cause unnecessary damage. But when we teach our kids to check their motive–and to be honest with themselves–we help them become self aware. What’s my motive? equips them to stop before they speak or act, to identify the emotion driving them, to evaluate options (and indirectly, consequences), and to make the right choice.

What kind of adults would our children grow to be if checking their motive became a habit? What kind of adults would we be if we did the same?

What’s my motive? “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

That’s powerful. And it shouldn’t be kept a secret.


Do you think “what’s your motive?” could be effective with your kids? Have you ever said or done something but now wish you would have checked your motive first? Do you have a strategy to help kids think before they speak or act? Please share it!

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  1. Kim says:

    I truly enjoy your posts.

  2. Kim says:

    Great article, Karen. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sandy Slusher says:

    Wow this is great! We could all benefit from this information.Just imagine if we all did this, things would be so different. Thanks for sharing.

    • Karen says:

      What’s your motive? Great question…and to think a group of high school girls were wise enough to ask it!

  4. Cathy Miller says:

    Loved it. I wish that some adults could remember the Golden Rule!

  5. Shelly says:

    This a great message that we all need to spread. As parents we need to ask ourselves these types of questions before we speak. We are ALL responsible for making sure we treat everyone with kindness and making sure we model this good behavior for our kids. Words can be uplifting to others or they can be hurtful. Just think how wonderful the world would be if everyone followed this advice!

  6. Teri says:

    Great blog post Karen!

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