Oath Makers

The Hippocratic Oath is a series of vows physicians take before they can come into practice. It originated from Greek medical texts, and by the works of Hippocrates of Kos, the “father of western medicine,” who lived around 300BC. He also founded the first school for medicine that allowed the science to emerge as its own discipline from ritualistic practices. The oath originally referred to healing gods and set guidelines to behave ethically. But it evolved over the centuries, and its modern version was written in 1964. To explore only a few tenants of the oath…

• I will honor the knowledge of others, and share it freely as if it was my own.
• I will not be afraid to say I do not know something.
• I do not treat illnesses, I treat human beings and prevention supersedes a cure.
• Medicine is both an art and science that requires a human touch.
• I will remember that I am part of human society, with a “special obligation” to help “my fellow human beings” and not part of an elite profession.
• I will be humbled by the power I have to help others…I will not play God.

What do you see when you read these vows? Within them are values of humility and respect. You see the knowledge of medicine is an obligation, not a position of power, to help others in need. There is an innate “give and take” between the physician who improves upon her skills, and the victim who benefits from her aid. And there is a sincere, authentic mindfulness to “do good.”

What does “do good” mean to you?

There is one phrase many believe to be part of the Hippocratic Oath that is never stated within it: Do No Harm.

Do no harm means a person must have a conscious understanding of her intent, and the impact of that intent, before acting. It means sometimes it may be better to do nothing when facing a problem, as attempting to fix it may make things worse. And it possesses an innate empathy, since all of us, as humans, are capable of hurt.

Do you find it odd there is no Hippocratic Oath for all professions that help others in perilous situations? True, there are other “similar” oaths but they vary from the firefighter, to the policeman, to the soldier. This also applies to professions that help people in high-risk emotional or financial threats…such as the lawyer, or the banker, or the businessman or the politician. And when you think about these high-risk threats, such as a burning building or a bankruptcy, they seem larger than life, that needs a larger than life hero. They must all be bound by an oath.

Remember when we discussed the ordinary man in the ordinary scenario…the ordinary hero? “Do no harm” should not only apply to every help-related profession, but to everyone. I challenge you to “do no harm” in an ordinary, today.

And for my oath…I also challenge you to click the “purpose” link on the Moral Vignette menu bar. On that page I share a few of my vows, written as a fable, called “The Zephyr and the Dandelion.” Enjoy.