Self-Harm is Still a Kind of Harm

 Topic: Self-Harm is Still a Kind of Harm

Today we will talk about the first Core Tenet of the Path and how it applies to harm done to the Self. While we do have bodily autonomy, it comes with a responsibility to take care of the body so the body can take care of the Self. Certain kinds of self-harm can also do harm to others, and we must be Mindful of the effect our choices have on those around us.

The first Core Tenet of the Path instructs us to do no harm, except in self-defense. One thing we need to remember is that some kinds of self-harm still qualify as harm according to this Tenet. There are two things we must consider when an action may be harmful to the Self: Intent, and effect. As with witchcraft, sometimes it is what you intend that matters. If you are causing yourself temporary pain with the aim of alleviating future suffering, such as when we must subject ourselves to medical care, it is not a damaging kind of self-harm. But things like cutting yourself to get high on the endorphins qualify as treating yourself as a thing, a violation of the eighth Core Tenet, and can be harmful both in the short and long term.

When we look at effect, we are considering how our actions impact us and those around us. If your self-harm is also actively hurting other people, either strangers or loved ones, then you are not acting in accordance with the first Core Tenet. We are obligated to be Mindful of others’ well-being and how our actions may harm another. Sometimes identifying harm is easy. Other times, it will be a challenge; you may be accused of doing harm if you offend somebody, but being offended is always a choice. It is not harm, any more than “I am worried about you” qualifies as harm. When we say “Do no harm” we are talking more about something that brings about damage in some way, physical, emotional, or mental. Abuse of any kind is harm. Racism and other kinds of tribalism can be harmful. We know that treating peopole as things is harmful. These are the kinds of things we want to avoid, as they hurt us as well as others.

Another thing that we must be Mindful of is the degree of harm being done. One good example is smoking cigarettes. It is no secret that it will kill you if you do it for long enough, and you are occasionally mildly inconveniencing others, but Path doctrine also recognizes that addiction is a medical concern rather than a moral one. Once you are addicted to nicotine, it is incredibly difficult to quit. I know this from personal experience. An individual who chooses to continue smoking may be doing some harm to others as well as themselves, but sometimes the suffering of withdrawals that come from trying to quit are even worse, and that choice is always up to the individual. This same principle applies to most other additctive drugs, as well, legal and otherwise. Certain drugs are more harmful to your body, others are just bad for your brain, and a few are both, but if you can contain your use and do not have to hurt people to get your fix, then you are doing all you can do to minimize harm.

This Core Tenet requires us to Balance our bodily sovereignty with a regard for the rights and safety of others. It also takes Patience and Compassion toward yourself and others, as well as Mindfulness of your true intent. Is there anything you do that may be harmful to yourself? If so, does it also harm those around you?


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