Posted in [witchcraft & wonder], [witchy reviews]

Ethics: Harm

This discussion and questions came from Chapter 6: Harm in When, Why… If by Robin Wood.

[Previous posts can be found here: Personal Ethics: an introduction, Ethics: Honesty, Ethics: Self, Ethics: Love, and Ethics: Help.]


Harm is a hot topic in paganism overall. “An ye harm none, do what ye Will” is one of the most commonly mentioned ethical guidelines in most pagan circles, even if not all participants are Wiccan. And yet, the study of personal ethics is about looking beyond the black-and-white world of morality. It’s about taking responsibility for your own actions, good and bad.

Harm can be necessary. Surgery is harmful, but it can remove an appendix before it bursts. Telling someone a painful truth can hurt their feelings, but perhaps it saves them from a worse pain in the future. Even choosing not to take action can be harmful, as the bystander effect can lead to people watching a crime happen and doing nothing to save the victim or seek help. On the other hand, sometimes not taking action is the choice to allow a person to grow via the harm their current course of action is leading toward.

[1] Define Harm.

Any force that causes (i.e. forces) change is harm. It’s not necessarily good or evil, but generally it’s considered damaging.

[2] In what circumstances are you most tempted to harm someone else?

I’m tempted to harm someone if I see them try to harm a person I care about (myself included).

[3] In what circumstances are you most tempted to harm yourself?

I harm myself with internal dialogue. There is a reason they say “you are your worst critic.”

[4] Describe a situation in which it might be necessary to choose the lesser of two harms.

Eating vegan. I can choose to eat animal products, meaning that I contribute to the suffering of animals. Or I can choose to be hangry all of the time, as I can’t guarantee I’ve taken enough food to work to sustain me; there’s no option to just run out for a quick snack when you’re vegan.

[5] What would you do in this situation, and why?

I personally choose to eat. I have vegetarian foods here and there, but I’ve learned to accept that I’m not an herbivore, and people don’t like me hangry (myself included).

[6] How much force would you use in this situation, and why?

I would try eating as a vegan (part-time and full-time), try eating as a vegetarian, and then try randomly including vegetarian meals at home. I only try for a short period (a week or two) before stopping, because my health (mental, emotional, and physical) is more important to me than stressing over the state of the planet.

[7] Why should you avoid harming someone else, anyway?

If harm is forceful change, than harming someone is forcing them along (or off of) their path in life. You are not their god, you have no right.

[8] Why should you avoid harming yourself?

Self-harm is often toxic and unfair. You see curvy women as sexy and beautiful, but you call yourself a fat cow when you look in a mirror. You see other people with your sense of humor as being funny, while calling yourself annoying or stupid. Self-harm often comes from dishonesty, because you can’t objectively look at yourself.

[9] What should you do if you harm someone?

Apologize and fix it. Some things can’t be fixed, but even forceful change to a relationship can grow into something. You may fight with your bestie, then apologize and make up, but your relationship will forever be altered by that fight. You can’t ungrow or unbreak anything.

[10] How might you harm someone through inattentiveness?

When you ignore someone, you leave them feeling unwanted. Maybe it’s by accident, because life is busy and full and you’ve lost track of your own toes. They don’t know that; all they see is how little you call/text/come by for a visit.

Final Thoughts

My biggest concern with harm is the ability for us to break other people, emotionally. I’m sure you’ve felt it, too. There are moments when, as words come out of our mouth (in anger, in the heat of the moment, and so forth), we see a fork in our path; speak the harshest words, and you’ll slice a spirit and leave scars you can’t undo.

I’ve been guilty of this. Sometimes, it’s been self-defense. I found myself in a situation where I was being hurt by love that I couldn’t undo; loving someone broken leads to your own breaking. Hacking and slashing at them until they turned away from me was the only way I knew to get free of their grasp. I have to accept responsibility for the broken relationships I’ve created this way, including those I couldn’t repair with apologies or time apart.

I find myself often measuring my actions on a scale, trying to balance potential harms with potential growth. Sometimes, that means I charge in and blaze my own path; other times, that means I sit back and let an opportunity slide by. It all depends on what kinds of harm I think may come from my actions, both to myself and to others.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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