As I sat down with my coffee this morning to tap out this post, I decided to check out the etymology of the word “harm”. My old collegiate dictionary says the word derives from an Old English term, “hearm”, which, in turn, is related to the Old Norse word, “harmr” for grief. There is the old High German word, “harm” which means injury. Also, the old Slavonic term “sramǔ” for disgrace.
There is no need to elaborate on the common definition of the word, harm. We learned, early on, that it is physical or mental damage or injury. One could also say it is wrongdoing or moral evil.
We know, in our heart of hearts, that it is best for everyone, that we cause no harm. This basic instinct is reinforced during our childhood by our parents or guardians, teachers, and other mentors. So, why is our world filled to overflowing with people who cause and advocate harm? Why do we wish to get away with harm? Why do we want to do harm, in the first place? These questions have puzzled many of us all of our lives.
It seems natural and normal to cause and wish no harm upon other beings. To hurt or kill another being seems disingenuous. Yet, more than ever, mass violence and killing are happening on an alarming scale.
We deeply and sincerely understand that to mentally or physically harm or abuse someone is wrong in a moral, spiritual, and ethical way. Yet, some of us feel the need to organize and remind people that we can achieve goals and live our lives without mental and physical violence.
There have been people like Mahatma Gandhi, César Chávez, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk, and many other great leaders who advocated peaceful, non-violent societal change. There are even political parties like the Green Party, that have non-violence as their founding principle. We know about these people and most of us are inspired by their lives and actions.
I think that all this individual and organized violence is due to not being mindful. We can see that police brutality and warfare are the products of dulled minds. We see that the abusive spouse or criminal are also not mindful individuals.
Mindfulness is not just some sort of New Age, self-help book fad that we perform during formal meditation or if we’re reminded to do so. Mindfulness is a way of living our day to day, mundane lives. It’s deciding to NOT switch our minds into autopilot mode. To be mindful, is to pay attention to what’s going on around us and to understand that what we say and do, absolutely affects everyone with whom we have contact.
When we lash out with a thoughtless remark, or act in an unkind or selfish manner, we cause a domino effect of rudeness, hurtful speech, and behavior among those around us. We already know and understand these basic facts. But when we’re not mindful, we forget.
Beneath much of our talking and many of our actions is a foundation of groundlessness. We go into entertainment mode. We feel a bit groundless or nervous. To ease this state of mind, we have habituated ourselves to start chattering away with gossip or trivia. This might be in person or on social media. There’s a reason why the name “Twitter” is appropriate. We feel groundless or nervous, then start to fidget, snack, drink, play video games, watch teevee, or mindlessly surf the web. These are mindless escapes. They become compulsive and feel absolutely essential and normal.
We love to escape from our edginess and jittery boredom and insecurity. We want to feel vital and important. Soon, we want the world to bow to our personal beliefs and points of view. We want others to conform to our worldview, or else they should suffer dire consequences. Even the most peaceful people have similar thoughts and wishes.
It’s being mindful of these thoughts and being mindful of the larger picture that brings most of us to the realization that it is simply better to accept people for who they are. Those, who mindlessly wish to make other people conform and to shoehorn others into compliance come across resistance. This wish and resulting resistance are the static and interference that distract us from our mindfulness. The static then lies at the center of harmful speech and actions.
Allowing ourselves to lose mindfulness gives us “permission” to slip into mindlessness. We stop paying attention. It can be compared to talking on the phone while driving a vehicle. We get caught up in the static of chattering away and lose attention to the road, opening ourselves up to injury or death because of our mindless driving.
It’s very easy not to live a lifestyle of mindfulness. Living is what we do. The backdrop to our lives is living our life. It can mindlessly slip away from us. Or, we can pay attention and enjoy the process of living. Mindfulness can open us up to the reality that other people are living lives, trying to keep their heads above water, and staying out of harm’s way.
As an experiment, the next time you feel edgy and nervous, refrain from entertaining yourself. Just pause awhile to simply pay attention to what is going on within and outside of you. The mindful moment will feel full and enriching. It is an easy way to live so as to cause no harm.
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows that causing no harm, is one of the best ways to allow joy and happiness into our lives.