• Austen Hayes

Do No Harm

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are."

~Dinah Maria Mulock


The yard is occupied with greater and greater numbers of birds, squirrels, wild turkey, and chipmunks. When I began setting out seed and nuts and suet, these creatures were hesitant, scanning their surroundings, eyes darting, heads bobbing, necks stretching - never so pleased that safety would be forgotten.


From the start more confident birds lingered, while others descended, picked up a tiny seed, then flew away - using Shakespeare's famous line - "in one fell swoop". The squirrels, more bold than chipmunks, stayed the longest, quite entitled, eating what wasn't meant for them while birds perched high - patiently eyed the leftovers.


Day by day, reticence fades. Now, squirrels peer through the window, seeing what I'm up to. Once they've eaten, they begin their morning routine. One running after another, the one chased suddenly turning towards the chaser - all in delightful play. As I walk into the garden I hear hundreds of tiny wings flapping and boisterous, joyful chirping coming from the tree closest to the door. Surely these are sounds of happiness.

A chipmunk sits on the front deck, grooming, then running up and down the step in his own form of solo play, finally resting upright on hind quarters, looking outward as if guarding the house. The turkeys, instead of skipping around the perimeter, calmly stroll past the front door. Feeling safe, they've become yard-mates, protectors, givers of many gifts.

All of us, creatures and humans alike, flourish once we feel safe. Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, proposed a theory - a hierarchy of needs. First, and most essential, the need for food, water and rest. Next would be safety, then belonging and friendship, followed by esteem needs, including accomplishment, topped by - Maslow's word - "actualization". The actualized, no longer focused on threat, belonging, develop their talents, use their imagination for good, create beauty for the eye, medicines for the body, technology for the improvement of just about everything.


It's a brilliant model, explaining so much of why we do what we do. Expanding and prospering, freed to be our best selves, once basic survival needs are met.


A securely attached child of two will move away from their parent, if only a few feet, eager to explore the unfamiliar. The anxious child will cling, less willing to test the unknown or challenge himself.


When a woman compliments the outfit of another, praise is often received with humility - the wearer downplaying the beauty or value of her clothing - "Oh, I've had this forever!", "...just something I picked up...", graciously receiving approval while making sure the woman offering it is in no way threatened by the more beautifully dressed of the two. The admired woman creates safety for her admirer - securing the relationship, more important than pride of elevation.


Friends and couples who avoid using threatening words create a safe environment - allowing space for a relationship to flourish, to enrich the lives of both. The threat of abandonment..."If this doesn't work out, I'll leave", held over the head of another, crushing feelings of trust, prevents couples from building as a secure, committed team.


Mothers using soft tones when correcting a child, co-workers approaching each other with inquiry rather than demand, praise more than criticism, accepting rather than judging - all send the signal - "you are safe with me".


Feeling safe is no small thing. We threaten when we are lacking - when we ourselves feel unsafe. Generosity comes when we know we're o.k., when we have enough, when esteem is intact, when we are as good as... If you want the best others have to offer, free them from the basic need for safety. Let them know - there will be no harm.



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