The phrase “first do no harm” has been associated with the Hippocratic Oath, principles that physicians and the medical profession in general have been called to adhere to. The exact wording varies, depending on sources, but it probably first appeared in the 1700s. Over the centuries, it has remained part of the collective memory bank. Yet is this powerful moral directive lived out fully and consciously, not only in medicine but in everyday life? Immediately I think of the countless TV ads for drugs to treat various physical conditions, all of which include a long list of dangerous possible side effects. Doctors believe the benefits outweigh potential risks, but do the drug companies prioritize possible harm over their profit margin? I have had allergic reactions and side effects from drugs ever since childhood. There has to be a better approach, one that is harm-less. Homeopathy, herbal remedies, or acupuncture, for example. More conscious guidelines for drug manufacture. Or better yet, stopping much illness and disease at the source: environmental pollutants that compromise our health.
There are many ways to apply that simple phrase: First do no harm. Today, our physical health and well-being are of growing concern on this planet as pesticide use and industrial waste poison our land, water, and food sources. The numbers of songbirds, bees, and butterflies are declining. Toxic chemicals are creeping into clothing, cleaning products, and toys our children play with. Cancer cases continue to rise. Organic and regenerative farming address some of these issues, as do activists who call out those who sell products dangerous to health or who allow the water supply to be polluted through intentional neglect. Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, are currently working together to find ways to provide people with clean water because the state and city infrastructure has failed to do so. Same occurred in Flint, Michigan. Communities of color are at particularly high risk for the poisoning of their water, air, and soil.
What about air quality and climate change? So many industries (including coal, oil, and gas production) habitually pollute the air we breathe and cause possibly irreversible damage to the global environment. Individuals often feel helpless to stop the extent of this harm. Yet each step counts: clean affordable energy sources like solar and wind power, stopping use of equipment like leaf and snow blowers which fill the air with fumes and make the air unbreathable. Not to mention noise pollution. Convenience comes at a cost (health and habitat destruction), one that people are learning they may not be willing to pay. Corporations and governments have monetary and political clout, but people together have collective power for change once they realize what’s at stake and that there is no “other,” only “we.”
Many groups and individuals are working on so many levels to create a harm-free planet. The difficulties can seem insurmountable at times, especially when addressing things like gun violence or war. Where to begin? Perhaps it’s about compassion and interpersonal peace in our lives as much as laws and treaties. When human hearts open, everything will change. If each person, organization, and country lives with the code “first do no harm” in every area (thought, word, and deed), the world will shift to a more peaceful livability. There is a better way, and we know it in our hearts. One without ill health, environmental destruction, violence, hatred, or self-serving monetary goals. One in which loving-kindness is our first impulse. It begins with you and me. Kind actions, kind words, kind thoughts. Within kindness and heart-centered awareness, harm falls to the wayside, obsolete. This is a future we can live in if we so choose. First do no harm.