There are many people who are sincere without being simple: they are ever afraid of being seen for what they are not; they are always musing over their words and thoughts and thinking about what they have done, in fear of having done or said too much. These people are sincere, but they are not simple: they are not at ease with others, and other people are not at ease with them. There is nothing easy about them, nothing free, spontaneous, or natural. People who are imperfect, less regular, less masters of themselves, are more lovable. — Francois Fenelon
Do no harm. It’s an ethical principle that guides the field of counseling, forever reminding therapists to treat clients with extra special care and to always keep each client’s best interest as the primary focal point. Of course, therapists are expected to do all that can be done to help, but the ethical code also heavily emphasizes the avoidance of harm. After all, clients definitely shouldn’t walk out of a professional helper’s office worse off than when they arrived.
The message often instilled in therapists is such: keep a close eye on your words, your reactions, your suggestions, your energy. You are often dealing with deep issues, and that’s an incredible privilege not to be taken lightly. Be awake and aware, and proceed with caution.
As I continue my studies, I am baffled by those who pursue this profession with no concept of God as our Counselor, Guide, Comforter and Shepherd. I can’t quite imagine entering a therapy room with the “do no harm” weight on my shoulders and trying to navigate through a client’s interior world alone. Talk about pressure (and probably a panic attack). The vision of myself as a cracked clay pot being used by God to carry his light and life—a “wounded healer,” a mere scalpal in the hand of the real Healer—relieves some serious stress.
That being said, the quote that introduced this post poked major buttons inside, shedding light on how the “do no harm” principle has ruled various parts of my life. Those three simple words can trap me in hyper-vigilance, rehearsing and replaying my conversations with others, eagerly trying to prevent or uncover any offense that may need to be rectified. Operating from a “do no harm” mandate, I can become detached, mechanical, controlled, scripted, anxious, uneasy, and distant.
Be invisible; say the “right” things; always encourage; smile; act nicely; watch every word; build up; ease others’ loads; be kind; don’t offend; apologize quickly; anticipate mistakes; correct course; isolate when upset; be positive (fake it when you’re not); go the extra mile; think of others first; flatter; be sweet; keep quiet; stay on guard; note others’ energy; serve, sooth and placate. Do no harm.
Such a spinning mind makes my heart unavailable, freezes any sign of spontaneity, and squelches intimate, honest love.
With eyes focused on what not to do, there is little time or energy left to do anything else. There’s no space to just be, or to actively love in free and unforced ways. Those enslaved to the “do no harm” rule of life becomes more and more like boxy, cold robots. The heart seems to harden, no longer pumping with bloody, messy passion.
So if we love big and generously and emotionally—if we choose to receive, embrace and give away love that bursts with life—that love just might spurt all over people and unintentionally do some harm. It may rub people the wrong way, or stir up some serious ripples. There may need to be some clean-up after it’s all said and done.
But it will be real, and it will be free, and it will be good. It will be much more satisfying to both the giver and the recipient, and it will make a difference. Strangely, it will serve as a signpost—our imperfect love infused with life will somehow give glory to a God who is true Love and truly Alive.
Do you love messily?