Fulfilling Your Dreams
First Do No Harm
Welcome back to my continuing series of Rules For Life.
If we’re going to establish some rules for life, rules that make life easier, that make living with others easier and make our world a better place, we’re going to have to start somewhere.
This month, I would like to start with a strong candidate for a first rule, which is: First do no harm.
You may have heard this rule before, somewhere. It is a rule of bioethics that all healthcare students are taught and all healthcare professionals follow worldwide. It is the rule of non-maleficence. In Latin, this rule is recorded as “primum non nocere.” It means that given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.
Let me give you an example: In the shock and fear after the attacks of 9/11, the United States recently went to war against Iraq, claiming that Iraq was responsible for those attacks, that it was ruled by a dictator, that it had “weapons of mass destruction” ready to kill (more) Americans, etc. etc. etc. None of the allegations turned out to be true. In fact, Iraq had done nothing harmful to America or Americans. But the US went in anyway. Rather than take some time to reflect on the problem, to consider if there really was a problem, the US sent tens of thousands of troops into Iraq.
This is what happened very recently when the US ignored the principle of “First do no harm.”
What was the cost? The cost to the US taxpayer was in the trillions of dollars. The cost in US lives was in the thousands. The cost to Iraqi civilians was in the hundreds of thousands. The cost to the nation of Iraq was inestimable. The cost to the United States as a country was just too high.
“First do no harm” is an easy rule to understand but not, necessarily, an easy rule to follow. It takes diligence. It takes wisdom. So, to follow this rule, we all need to work on these qualities within ourselves.
We will need to consider our actions towards other people in order to, first, do them no harm. We’ll need to consider, for instance, how we drive, how we speak, what kinds of business we engage in – the ramifications of this rule extend quite a ways. It is, after all, a rule for life.
We’ll need to consider the way we eat. Many modern methods of farming are hurting the planet unnecessarily. Eating meat means killing animals. That’s a fact. A vegetarian lifestyle is better for your health and it is also better for the health of those animals as well as the health of the planet.
Having a rule for life, making the world a better place, means considering the effects our actions have. If we are to do no harm, we must consider everything we do.
Of course, there’s no way to do absolutely no harm at all. Simply the act of breathing kills millions of microbes and bacteria. Walking squishes bugs. Harm is inescapable.
But as a rule for life, the decision to first do no harm, to consider the amount of good we’re creating in the world compared the amount of harm we bring, can have a profound effect all around you.
As we can see from the example of the Iraq War, the effects of ignoring this rule were detrimental to both sides. Detrimental and devastating. Those who lost their lives died for nothing. The hundreds of thousands who were maimed or crippled were violated for no greater good. Every home that was destroyed and every family that was shattered was needless, pointless.
Worse still, those who benefited from that war, those who profited from the manufacture of arms or the privatization of troops – all on the US side, by the way – were all the most craven and despicable of human beings. Those were the ones who made off like bandits and we were the ones who let them.
First, do no harm.
About the Author
Author and Playwright, Ken La Salle grew up in Santa Ana, California and has remained in the surrounding area his entire life. He was raised with strong, blue-collar roots, which have given him a progressive and environmentalist view. As a result, you’ll find many of his stories touching those areas both geographically and philosophically. His plays have been seen in theaters across the country and you can find a growing number of books available online. Find out more about Ken on his website at www.kenlasalle.com. Ken La Salle is represented by Loiacono Literary Agency, LLC.