Mar 15

This question carries special challenges for those who live their lives trying to help others. We are humanitarians and warriors, peacebuilders and peacekeepers, field workers with broken fingernails and office workers with ulcers. We respond to disasters and emergencies, fires and threats to public or global safety, disease and poverty. We are politicians and activists, police and scientists, people lending a hand.

We are meddlers and busybodies. We are interveners.

We share a real concern about the audacity of intervening in other people’s lives, other people’s problems. We are right to be uncomfortable with this role and how it might be perceived, especially by those with whom we are working. What are our motives? Why do we do this? How can we be so sure that what we do is right?

Most of us would say that our values called us to this work. We could not stand by and watch—or ignore—human suffering without offering a helping hand. Yet our actions do not always the have the effect we intended, sometimes with terrible consequences. The recipients of our assistance question our motives and our presence. Our values seem unattainable.

How do we live our values so that they shine through? How do we avoid being overwhelmed by complex situations and perceptions that question our interventions, making them appear manipulative and mean? How do we get helping right?

We form principles based upon our values to guide us toward right action. We look to them to point us in the right direction, and they do. But, at the end of the day—and every day—what we do, what we practice is where we make a difference.

This blog is about practice. This blog is about how to “do no harm”.

Mar 15

The Parable of the Fish’s Eye

A king held an archery contest to determine the best archer in all the land. When three archers remained, the best of all in the kingdom, the king offered one final test. A wooden fish was hung on a pole, far out in the field. Whoever struck the fish closest to the head would be the winner.

The three archers lined up, aimed up into the sky, and loosed their arrows.

The king called each archer close to ask about their shot. The third place archer came forward.

“What were you aiming at?” asked the King.

“I was aiming at the fish, your Majesty” said the archer.

The second archer approached. “What were you aiming at?” asked the King.

“If it please your Majesty, I was aiming for the fish’s head.”

The winner approached. “What were you aiming at?” asked the King.

“Your Majesty, I was aiming at the fish’s eye.”


“To do no harm is impossible. There is always some harm.”


But I can tell you this: not one of the people who has ever said that to me over the years had really used the techniques of Do No Harm.

I will tell you one more thing: everybody who has used the Do No Harm techniques has seen significant, positive, lasting change in their work and in their lives.

What are you aiming at?