First, Do No Harm


My Boy Scout merit badge book said “citizen” was another word for “member,” and membership came with both benefits and duties. I soon noticed that among some “grownups” citizenship usually only meant “I have a right to do that!” or simply, “I have my rights!”

Communities and democracies can only thrive in the hands of people who know how to govern themselves. Without self-governance, ever more controls and laws are needed to maintain order. Freedom and liberty fade away.

Citizens’ rights must be matched with responsibilities. People focused on what they can get, give little back.

So, I think we need an “Operators Manual” for our rights.

People who graduate from medical school, for example, gain the right to practice medicine. The core rule to follow in order to keep that right is: “First, do no harm.”

That is also Instruction Number 1 in the Operators Manual for our civil rights in the United States. Instruction 1 makes it impossible to exercise your rights without looking at your neighbor first. It is self-governance. It does not depend on laws and regulations.

This week the Jamestown Gazette takes a look at the topic of rights and guns. We have rights, yet somebody got hurt… many somebodies, as a matter of fact, and many times. What’s wrong?

I know a lot of people who have guns, lots of guns. I also know none of them have ever hurt anybody with their guns. In fact some of them are in healing professions and clearly live by Instruction 1. They absolutely will do no harm.

Yet somebody got hurt… many somebodies, as a matter of fact, and many times.

We have known almost forever, as John Donne wrote in 1624, a poem which included the words, “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Any man’s death diminishes me… Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Could it be that handling my rights as a responsible individual isn’t quite good enough to follow Instruction 1?

The human race has never invented a tool, no matter how good, that has not been misused. That does not make the tool bad, but it can be dangerous. The best of tools can also be hazardous. So my neighbor’s weakness becomes my concern. I am not an island.

Even more ancient wisdom than John Donne’s says I cannot allow my own individual liberty, my rights, to tempt or cause another to stumble.

The right to own and use guns is a crucial right in the United States and it is enshrined in the American Constitution for very good reasons. The national organization which protects that right takes in $300 million to $400 million every year to do that. They also promote responsible use, safety, education and more.

So the question becomes, “How many of those dollars are spent making it harder to do so for those who do misuse that wonderful tool?” Could it be that their righteous fight to protect gun owners’ rights should be matched, maybe dollar-for-dollar, by their fight to protect others from their misuse?

A protective fence around a potential hazard is not an attack on anybody’s civil liberties.

Reasonable people can grapple with this, but polarization is everybody’s enemy.

It is important for people on both sides of this issue to believe that the people who disagree with you are NOT all idiots… unless you think that anybody who disagrees with you is, by definition, an idiot.

So this week, we invite you take a side close enough to the middle that you can hear the folks on the other position. Life comes with two legs: rights and responsibilities upholding a body called Do no harm. Don’t get caught standing on just one leg.
Enjoy the read.
Walt Pickut