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Harm None: Reaching Deeper

b2ap3_thumbnail_web3_sm.jpgAny discussion of the meaning of “Harm none” can - and should – generate plenty of questions. That’s the nature of determining our ethical behavior: our perspective shifts as we circle the problem at hand. This is necessary. The reason for ethics is to determine how to minimize damage to others, and unless we try to walk for a while in their shoes, to empathize with their viewpoint, its almost impossible to do that. This includes our own viewpoint. If we didn’t need to consider our own desire in any given matter, there would be no need for ethics. Which means we need to be very clear about why we want something, and ideally be aware of the consequences of that desire.

We might call this being good neighbors. How would you treat your neighbor if you want to continue – or create – a good relationship? That in no way means that you must be friends with this person, it only means that when you see them in person, that a smile and a wave is easily done. It might be faked, this person may have done something to mildly annoy you, but the fake is easy, and can eventually become a genuine smile if the offense is not repeated.

Lets take the analogy a bit further. If your neighbor wanted to have a block party and you didn’t – for whatever reason – wish to participate, there is no ethical question involved. But what if he found a way to force you to be involved in this block party; perhaps by threatening you in some way. It is easy to agree that this would not be ethical, either if he did it, or if we did that ourselves. It seems to me that this would certainly constitute “harm.” And yet this sort of behavior is routine. Day in and day out, we take turns being victims of this sort of harm, and perpetuating it. Ours is not the only religion that has some form of the good neighbor policy, but often such a policy is only applied to people of that same religion. If everyone in a given neighborhood agrees that a block party is the way to go, then there is no need to force anyone to participate. But what happens to the family who does not? Because we don’t have a laws that say that if the majority of people on a block want to throw a party that everyone must participate regardless of personal circumstances, ultimately, very little of consequence will happen.

There are however plenty of laws which force us to participate in block parties that a full of people who do not share our ethical views, or our idea of fun. By law, I am required to fund all manner of things that I find abhorrent: the war on drugs, invading other countries who have not attacked us, prisons for illegal immigrants who have done nothing but contribute to society, eminent domain land grabs, federal agencies that waste my money and enact policies that I believe are morally wrong, Etc.

The mistake in any religion is to act as if our spiritual neighbors should share all of our beliefs about what is moral and ethical. We don’t like it when it’s done to us, and it is no more moral if we do it to others. What Pagan values have been, or are being attempted to be, made into laws? If we are to live together on the Earth, Christians, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Hindus do not have a good ethical argument for imposing their religious laws on other humans. Pagans are not exempt from this.

Being comfortable with, feeling the rightness of, a given law is not a good reason to ignore how it negatively affects others. The question I ask is: Does Harm None apply only to Pagans, or does it apply to all of our neighbors?

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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


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