“First do no harm.” (Hippocratic oath).
No one has a licence to harm another.
Retribution and harm
Behaviour that is harming another is also harming the person so behaving. It is essential to arrest that behaviour in the first place and then begin an educational process to change this harming behaviour. This process cannot begin by harming the person perpetrating the harm, for all this does is reiterate that harming another is selectively permissible and legitimate. It is not. This “retribution harm” is not educative, except that it teaches people that when you do not have power, you can and will most likely be harmed by someone with power (in authority). Should this be the modus operandi of the culture then we have a hierarchical culture built upon behaviour management that is based upon harm. This is the ‘stick’ aspect of the ‘carrot and the stick’ approach to behaviour management. This is where behaviour is extrinsically controlled and this entrenches power positioning that can be, and most likely is, harmful.
All this is relational. All behaviour is relational and all behaviour impacts upon relationships. When a mistake is made the impact is relational. A relationship is challenged or harmed, certainly changed in nature. The trust factor in the relationship is impacted upon. This obligation the harming party has is to address this relational impact and to work with the relational partner to repair the relationship and regather the trust component. The harmer must accept that harm has been done, acknowledge it, take responsibility for it and begin the reparation process. Apology actually is this acceptance and taking responsibility as well as showing remorse, which is an empathic expression indicating that the harmer understands or is trying to understand the impact such action has had on the person harmed. An apology is not ‘’real’’ if the remorse does not exist for remorse indicates that an attempt has been made to understand how the event has impacted upon the person harmed.
The path to reparation
The realisation of the responsibility to accept the wrong and to put things right begins the reparation. The person harmed must at this stage develop a preparedness to work with the harmer to repair the relationship and therefore give for this to occur. This cooperation and collaboration is essential. The heavy lifting in this process is with the person who harmed however the person harmed must give to ensure that the process occurs. Both give for only then will behaviour change take place and recidivistic behaviour be avoided. If the harmed, or his/her agent, harms another through punishment then all parties inflict harm and this entrenches harmful behaviour and all the attendant destruction of relationships. More seriously, this culture of retribution promotes harm and disables the possibility of peace and goodwill.
The ‘neighbourhood principle’
The moral obligation of being in a relationship is found in treating each other with kindness and with respect, caring for each other. If harm occurs deliberately or inadvertently, it must be addressed by both parties for the moral obligation of the relationships directs each to do so. All relationships are founded upon trust, forgiveness, integrity, hope and compassion. All in relationships ‘sign up’ to these in each and every relationship formed. Many relationships are formed without real conscious intent, they emerge through circumstance. We are all ‘neighbours’. We owe a moral obligation to all whom we share our lives with. This is the ‘neighbourhood principle’ we all understand for we do expect all to be kind to us and to ‘’live with us’’ without harming us, to take care of us.
Power in relationships
We all possess power within relationships, for we can through behaviour impact upon another. We are powerful. We all have functions within relationships and these functions give us powers to contribute to, and for, the other. How we use this power and how this power is understood by each is critical. We must respect the power we have in relationships and use such to empower the other and to ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial and that each are empowered by being in the relationship. This is why we form relationships, for the relationships add security, power and the capacity we have to contribute. How we use the power we have in relationships defines us and our relationships.
Care in relationships
Care in relationships refers to how we use our power in reference to others and ourselves. We need to understand that relationships are substantiated upon care and from care comes strength and all the empathic understandings that enable relationships to grow and endure. We learn through relationships and particularly through relational behaviour. When errors of judgement are made or when mistakes are made it is beholden upon each and every person within the relationship to contribute to the reparation of the relationship by recognising the harm caused and by working collaboratively to enable each to again feel secure and cared for within the relationship. We each have to give for this to take place. We regain the power we possessed within the relationship and we are again positioned well to contribute. We are empowered again. We are secure. With security comes freedom to again give and receive, to help and receive help, to make a difference, to contribute.
The Hippocratic oath, “First do no harm” directs us, as does the Golden Rule, the reciprocity principle of treating others as one would want to be treated. Both these are the guiding principles for each relationship formed. How we behave and use our power within relationships does define who we are and our capacity to add value to ourselves and others.
We are defined in life by how we behave in our relationships with others and we define our own lives by how we behave towards ourselves in the relationship we have with ourselves. Our mental health is so determined.
John Hendry OAM, 2019