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Well, I was going to call this "Back in Hell", but in all fairness and an attempt to set an example of looking on the bright side, I do get paid for sitting here, so it's not all bad.

There's a topic that has come up several times with different people, today: the attempt to live by the first part of the Hippocratic Oath: "first, do no harm". Unfortunately, it's not possible. Sure, maybe "minimum harm"; no one wants to hurt people deliberately. But the fact is, there's no way to negotiate the minefield of possible harms. Often, the only way to avoid hurting one person or group is to harm another in some way. The best you can hope for is some sort of compromise. At worst, it can seem that everyone gets hurt.

The important part of this is the potential guilt that tends to accompany hurting people. If it's not possible always to avoid hurting people, every person needs a way to handle the guilt that goes with the choice.


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Country music isn't for everyone but I think this song sums up what we should all live by.

Waylon Jennings, I've always been crazy.

I've always been crazy and the trouble that it's put me through

I've been busted for things that I did, and I didn't do

I can't say I’m proud of all of the things that I’ve done

But I can say I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone

I've always been different with one foot over the line

Winding up somewhere one step ahead or behind

It ain't been so easy but I guess I shouldn't complain

I've always been crazy but it's kept me from going insane

Beautiful lady are you sure that you understand

The chances your taking loving a free living man

Are you really sure you really want what you see

Be careful of something that's just what you want it to be

I've always been crazy but it's kept me from going insane

Nobody knows if it's something to bless or to blame

So far I ain't found a rhyme or a reason to change

I've always been crazy but it's kept me from going insane.

I put the key part of it in bold. Many times we hurt people and for many reasons but what truly distinguishes the difference in that is the intent and knowledge of it. One big dilemma some of us face is when hurting ourselves and hurting others comes into contention. Where each of us draws that line in the sand is going to be different. Let's say you work very hard for a promotion and the next person is less qualified and has not worked as hard but they have greater social responsibilities and financial needs outside of work, a family member with health problems. One person will take the brass ring, it's theirs, they worked for it, the other will step down because they don't need it as bad as the other person does. Neither answer is right or wrong.

I have a personal quote "above all else, be true to yourself". So long as we each live our lives each day knowing that we must fall asleep with our own consciousness and wake to our own self image we will all be just fine and there is no real right or wrong.

Sometimes we do wrong to others to do right by ourselves as well. Long ago I learned this is usually the case when people choose to have an affair.

Bottom line is, there is very little in this world that is black and white. Most people feel that stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry child is acceptable even if it's wrong. Just IS. It's the reason why we reserve judgment but unfortunately people who do tend to judge themselves very harshly.

Hope my rambling made some sense to you.

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Hey malign, I agree that the choice to 'first, do no harm' is limited by what people are physically and technologically capable of at any given time. But, one of the key points to this ethical principle is to encourage people to ask “what is harm?”, and what to do about the results of this harm once it is recognized as such. Harm can include actions and circumstances that inflict and extend the duration of physical or emotional suffering; but, the ideas about harm are subject to the interpretations of different peoples of different times. For instance, when freon was widely used in air conditioners and refridgerators, there was no awareness of how the substance harmed the Earth's ozone layer. Decades later, bans against freon are now in place to prevent their production and consumption, and societies around the world explicitly accept responsibility for the environment.

I also agree with Just Me's point that everything is not always black and white. This point is embodied in the flowing Daoist symbol of the yin yang where the yin has a little of the yang, and the yang has a little of the yin. So long as society and individuals can take a moment to step back from situations where there is recognition that harm has resulted, and ask themselves 'is this okay?', then the principle of 'first do no harm' will have meaning. Once we as a people or part of a group can say that something is not okay, we can try to change the procedures to prevent similar harmful situations from occurring, or try to restore the situation to the best of our abilities (damages, insurance).

Thus, I think you are right that where it is generally understood that harm has been done, those who are held responsible for such harm should be prepared for the responsibility and guilt to follow. But, 'first do no harm' also encourages people to ask a question that rests one step back: should people bear responsibility for situations that have caused harms, like the freon example. Should people be held guilty in the first place? Of course, the freon situation seems to be a no-brainer, but social movements to protect the environment developed over the decades to change the attitudes of the general public of the world.

The same approach can be applied to individuals when one sees children or adults hurting the feelings of another. Is this okay? If the answer is negative, some measures should be taken to show these children or adults that their conduct is unacceptable, and that they must make some efforts to address the harm done (hopefully an apology).

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Mmm. My primary issue was with the absoluteness of "do no harm". I agree it's a useful admonition in bringing to mind the possible harms, so that those can at least be weighed.

And my primary interest was with self-imposed guilt feelings, more than with societal justice for things like malpractice or corporate actions.

How does a person deal with the feeling of guilt when it becomes clear that they have harmed someone?

Is it enough to say "I didn't mean to"?

If you made a choice between two harms, is it appropriate to apologize to the person you ended up choosing to harm, even though you'd do it again?

This is an area where I feel I need to develop my own coping skills, because fear before and guilt after situations involving possible harm often interfere with my getting things done.

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