Nearly all of us have been taught to never kill or hurt life, threaten health, steal possessions, or limit liberty. Doing any or all of these is harmful. Yet humans regularly do harm others either by themselves or by proxy. Not only do people harm others, we harm ourselves despite knowing better.
It has been said that human beings are the most dangerous animals on Earth. Through our cleverness, mental prowess, and technology, nothing is immune from our harmfulness, not even ourselves. A casual glance at the news headlines reveals murder, assaults, robberies, burglaries, or one group or another hoping to abridge the freedoms of others.
Why do people keep committing harmful acts? I don’t have the answers, nor ultimate solutions. I can only observe, comment, and take precautions for my personal safety. After all, even the police and surveillance cannot prevent crimes. They are only after the fact countermeasures.
“A farmer travelling with his load
Picked up a horseshoe on the road,
And nailed it fast to his barn door,
That luck might down upon him pour;
That every blessing known in life
Might crown his homestead and his wife,
And never any kind of harm
Descend upon his growing farm.”–James Thomas Fields
It’s tempting to put on rose-colored glasses and believe that rainbows and unicorns will shield us from having to think about harmful things. Yet denial and ignorance are not viable strategies to go about living our lives.
I remember acting stupidly ignorant of personal danger one night in South Los Angeles. I had been taking experimental street photographs and finally decided to return to the hotel where I was staying. The rental car would not start because the battery had gone dead. This was before cellphones so I was stranded in what was a very rough part of the city. I had to decide whether to leave my camera and tripod in the car or carry them with me on the two mile walk.
I ended up taking the chance of carrying the gear. Miraculously, I made it back to the hotel safely despite threatening looks from a group of young men I encountered a few blocks away from my destination. I called the car rental company and informed them of the car problem. They would not be able to help until the next morning, so the car had to remain parked in the sketchy neighborhood overnight. Fortunately, the car stayed unmolested and the rental company replaced the faulty battery. The rest of the vacation trip was uneventful and fun. However, the memory of the stupid risks I took still haunts me sometimes.
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”–Albert Camus
It’s important that we have no intentions to harm others; however we should not be unaware of danger so as to avoid being harmed or killed by others. All things considered, carelessness and denial could lead to our demise. This is not to say we should be hyper-alert or paranoid. One should exercise appropriate caution and discernment according to each situation. This is an argument in favor of mindful thinking and acting. If I had been more mindful in South L.A. that night, I probably would not have placed myself in that dangerous scenario.
Harm arrives in many forms. Crime syndicate and state-sponsored hackers and terrorists lurk in the world. Thieves, rapists, fraudsters and other self-centered people are nearby. They seek our cash, our secrets, and our security. They care not about the harm they cause. They are why it pays to practice discernment and reasonable caution–free of paranoia–as we go about our days. We can lose our innocence and ignorance, yet with care and dignity we can still live joyful lives.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the writer, Leo Tolstoy. “An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life–becoming a better person.”