A Lesson from Nature: First, Do No Harm

Just ask the animals, and they will teach you.
Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you.
Speak to the earth, and it will instruct you.
Let the fish in the sea speak to you.
(Job 12:7-8 NLT)

Observing the wild animals near my home in central Arkansas this past summer reminded me how powerful maternal instincts can be in animals and in humans. And as I watched a doe with her fawn in my backyard, I shot  several awesome pictures.

I also spent several days with my daughter when she faced emergency surgery. As she recovered, I helped her care for her four small children.

First, do no harm. As a writing instructor, I’m often reminded of the Latin phrase Primum non nocere, which means “First, do no harm.” I’m well aware of the risk that my intervention might do more harm than good to the writer and to her work, as I wield my red pen. I also see the value of this truth in other areas of life.

… Have you watched as deer are born in the wild? Do you know how many months they carry their young? Are you aware of the time of their delivery? They crouch down to give birth to their young and deliver their offspring. Their young grow up in the open fields, then leave home and never return. (Job 39:1-4)

I captured a video of a doe hovering over her fawn in my backyard. But I watched from a distance to avoid disturbing their peace. During the hottest part of a summer day, the doe nudged her fawn along the property boundary of my backyard.

I peeked out the window several times that day, and I noticed the ears of the fawn twitching under the brush. I didn’t realize until later that evening that the doe was just a few feet away out of my view behind a tree, watching over her spotted little one.

What did I do to help this doe protect her fawn? Nothing. Any movement toward her would have been perceived as a threat by the fawn and her mother.

As I tiptoed out on my deck later that day to capture this scene on my camera again, the doe did not run away. She turned her head toward me with her ears perked up and tail twitching. She stomped one hoof and snorted to see if I would move. But while she was watching me, she kept a watchful eye on her fawn. And the fawn stayed close to her mother, watching her body language for direction.

Watch my words.
 I understand that my presence disturbs the peace of a doe with her fawn. But often, I’m not aware of my unwelcome intervention, even with my own family. I may believe my helpful advice is needed and even expected. But sometimes my unsolicited verbal support may do more harm than good.

As I related my observations of nature to my own life experiences, I recalled the many times that my own mother gave me unsolicited help or advice. Most of our conflicts came as we faced our unreasonable expectations of each other, our undefined boundaries, or our personal limitations.

Will I ever learn this lesson and stop reacting with my emotions when I see a need with my own adult children? I hope so. But often it takes a crisis to get my attention.

How many of us does it take to put together a toy basketball goal?

Reap a harvest of blessing. As I celebrate this season, I’m grateful for the beautiful examples of God’s creation all around me—the landscape, sunrises and sunsets, and even the wild animals. But I’m most thankful that God continues to reveal the truths I need, so my words and actions can be a blessing, instead of a curse, to my family.

Observing my children and the lessons in nature around me, I’m reminded once again that sometimes it may be best to choose not to do something, or do nothing at all, than to risk causing more harm with my actions or words.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Have you ever chosen to do (or say) nothing at all, rather than cause harm by doing (or saying) something?


4 Replies to “A Lesson from Nature: First, Do No Harm”

  1. First do no harm. Powerful reminder for writers that our words carry both the ability to harm or to heal. The immediate choice is ours, but the affects, though invisible temporarily, could last a lifetime. Makes me slow down and think a bit longer, before penning the next keystroke.

    1. Yes, this thought convicts me about my words–others are listening to them and reading them. It also reminds me of the importance of acknowledging my audience; you never know who is listening to you or reading your words. Your comment also reminded me of this warning from this scripture: “Let no unwholesome (lit ‘rotten’) word proceed from your mouth (i.e., any means of communication), but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

    1. Hi Anita! I love taking pics and videos of God’s creation all around me. I know you understand, since you live in such a beautiful section of Missouri. God teaches me so much about Himself, life, and writing through nature. Thanks for your comment!

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