Fighting the Impulse to Harm

The following is not directed at any one group, person, or incident. The opinion belongs solely to the author.

After recent events during this “Harvard Law Spring,” let’s pause. Do we want to inhabit a culture of human dignity, or an honor culture where every slight is met with face-saving, self-important insults? Do we want to transcend harm–or to cause it? Do we want to allow the indignant ill will swirling within our flawed human souls to overflow, or to temper such poison with its only true antidote–empathy?

Our professional goals lend these questions import. As lawyers, we will be responsible for how the state directs its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. To me, this means we must rise above “the impulse to do harm,” which is something humans naturally feel after being slighted. We must suppress our biases. We must embrace System 2 thinking over System 1 impulse. We must strive to see others, especially others who are “the Other,” as┬áhuman beings rather than political beings.

As a law school community, we are failing to be kind. We are failing to realize that to advocate for a cause, one need not advocate against people. One can disagree with ideas instead of disagreeing with people. One can view people–all people–as flawed beings worthy of good-faith treatment, as ends rather than means to the fulfillment of one’s parochial sense of self-righteousness, of anger, of political vindication.

This semester proves, to me, that there is only one thing we can do on this campus that is truly revolutionary. We can be kind.


Michael Shammas ’16 is the editor-in-chief of The Record.

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