To Help vs To Do No Harm?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Students in training to become medical doctors early on encounter some foundational principles for conducting themselves in the medical profession.  And one principle goes back a long way, to the Greek world and the wording of the Hippocratic oath: DO NO HARM. That’s the first rule for a budding physician to learn: not DO GOOD, but, rather, DO NO HARM.

It’s interesting that a budding doctor is advised to void injuring someone, before being counseled to help someone.  There’s an issue here of comparing good and evil, and it applies beyond the medical field into the personal and private field of our own personal lives.  If one of us was asked: what is more important: to avoid hurting someone, or to do something good for someone, how would I answer that question?

For instance, if I found myself before someone, and I had to make a sudden decision between “don’t hurt that person” and “do something kind for that person”, what would I decide?  This is a pretty simplistic reduction of a real life situation, and we could easily argue about the “either/or” scenario presented here, namely, that one melds into the other. However, there are life situations where the melding doesn’t occur so easily, as when I’m talking to another and I have to decide

between telling the person one truth, which hurts/harms him/her, or telling the person another truth, which benefits/helps him/her.  DO NO HARM, DO GOOD TO EVERYONE.

As a follower of Christ, how do I steer myself properly between these opposites?  As a Christian, am I to be primarily known as one who never hurt anyone (never said a bad word about anyone?), or as someone who always said the truth, come what may (whose word was as good as gold?) Would you rather have a physician who never hurt you, or one who always helped you feel better?  Does Jesus’ life teach us anything about this?  How would I want to live my life: in a way that never hurt anyone, or in a way that always helped someone?  After all, I may never hurt anyone but also never do anyone any good at all, or I may always manage to help everyone but in doing so never hurt them at all.


Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

2 thoughts on “To Help vs To Do No Harm?”

  1. Our lives are continually having to make choices on how to handle many situations and we have to decide how to tell the truth as we know it. Do we do it so that the person we are talking to hears the truth from a loving, compassionate person or are we so abrubt that the hearer cannot even hear what we are saying. Jesus tole the truth but was compassionate and offered mercy like the woman caught in adultery. He knew her truth and confronted her. But he also forgave her and sent her off to sin no more. So can we a;ways do no harm, I think we can and always be truthful, but with compassion and love.

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