Harm

I find the concept of “harm” far more fascinating than I probably should. The ethical questions around harm – how much should we seek to minimize harm to others? To ourselves? What even is harm? How can we accurately define it? – occupy my mind frequently.

Can you harm someone simply by your inaction? What about your knowing inaction? Is “absence of help” the same as harm? Can there be a neutral place, or are you harming everyone you aren’t helping? Or perhaps, are you helping everyone you aren’t harming? What’s the default?

Can some harm be healthy? Certainly, I don’t believe I should shield my children from all harm, but I only feel that way because I believe that there will be harm I can’t shield them from and I want them to be prepared for it. But if I could actually guarantee that they would never be harmed… would I?

What about “net” harm? Giving someone a shot of medicine to save their life is helpful, but strictly speaking, you also had to stab them with a needle. We think on net then that we’ve helped, but that’s an easy example. They get more complicated. I think lots of harm gets done by people trying sincerely to help, especially at scale.

Maybe it shouldn’t be “First, do no harm.” Maybe it should be “First, figure out what harm is.”

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