How Many Ways Can We Harm Someone?

by Leah McClellan

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I’m reading Chris Guillebeau’s book The Art of Non-Conformity, and I’m thrilled to announce that it’s great. I knew it would be good, and even though I’m only thirty pages in, I’m shaking my head and saying things like, “Wow. Cool. This is way better than I imagined it would be. I can’t believe I’m finally reading this kind of thing. Wow.”

It sold out already! I’ll be doing a review in a few weeks, but there’s something I want to talk about first.

Chris has mentioned something a few times, at least, on his blog or possibly in his Empire Building Kit, which I’ve had since the initial launch. I like it a lot, and he says it again in his book:

“We need money to live in a modern world, and we should find a way to get what we need without harming anyone else.”

Without harming anyone else. I like that. Chris’s values are very close to my own, and that’s one reason I like his work and admire him.

But let’s explore that idea for a moment. Harming or hurting others isn’t a very peaceful thing to do. And if we want a peaceful planet, change starts with us.

How could we harm others while earning money? What comes to your mind right away?

For me, I immediately think of things like dishonesty, theft, and extortion. Then comes robbery—from pick-pocketing and purse-snatching to an armed bank robbery that results in murder—anything violent with the intention to acquire money.

Most people agree that this is wrong. But how else could we harm someone in our quest for money? That might take some thinking, and we might not think it’s wrong, necessarily. At least not much.

We could lie. That might hurt someone. Lying to make money could take the form of false representation of a product, misrepresenting ourselves on a CV or resume, or lying outright to employees or managers. Any form of dishonesty might harm someone.

Manipulation could harm someone. I’ve been in sales, in several capacities, including manager. I’m really good at selling something I believe in, but I can’t deal with the manipulation and rehearsed scripts and sales tactics that are used not only on customers, but also with employees. Most sales people and managers are expected to use them, or they believe it’s a useful tool and willingly do so, but I’m just not comfortable with it. It feels wrong and harmful to me. Plus it resulted in a lot of returns at the last sales job I had. I rarely had a return, but the top sales people—who used those techniques—really didn’t sell any more than I did when all the numbers were crunched. I imagine many of those customers got home with their product and wondered why they bought it.

I also worked in restaurants for years, since I was fifteen through college. Many examples come to mind. A cook might not practice good sanitation and cause someone to get sick. The menu might misrepresent the food. A server might be rude to customers. I know I was a smart-aleck at least a few times when customers gave me a hard time. I won’t tell you about the time I accidentally dropped someone’s French toast, dusted it off with a napkin, sprinkled fresh powdered sugar on it, and served it anyway. Ooops. I just told you. Oh well. Make sure you’re nice to your server! That guy wasn’t. Did I harm him? Probably not. But you never know what’s on a floor in a busy restaurant. Hey, I was only twenty or so; cut me a break. Thanks.

I agree with Chris Guillebeau that the way we make money shouldn’t harm anyone. I only believe in helping people or providing a valuable product or service in exchange for money.

What about you? Can you think of ways we make money that can harm someone?

Comments are very welcome!



Linda Gabriel

I’m not sure it’s possible to live a harmless life on this planet. And as far as earning money, there’s a lot of greed and scarcity built into the way currencies are designed. But I remember reading something in a Bartholomew book about aiming for 51% harmlessness. 51% is doable – and maybe even more.

I’m waiting for my copy of The Art of Non-Conformity to arrive. Should be here in a few days.

P.S. I’m never eating French Toast in a restaurant again! LOL
Linda Gabriel´s last [type] ..For Our World- a poem written on 9-11 by Mattie Stepanek


Hi Linda! You’re right about greed and scarcity. And I’m sure the idea of everyone making money without harming anyone is about as possible as total world peace.

But what the heck. Why not have high ideals? At least for ourselves.

I’m not familiar with the book you mentioned but I’ll keep it in mind. I wonder what kinds of things we could do that are harmful even if our intentions and actions are, as far as we know, harmless. I mean unintentionally. I guess environmental things. What else? Why couldn’t it be closer to 100%?

Sorry about the French toast lol I’ve seen a lot worse! :)


Hey Leah, I don’t think corporations are designed to put harmlessness before profits. Hopefully, as individuals we can do our best to do the opposite and when we earn, earn without trampling on someone else or taking advantage of others, but instead earn with compassion and mindfulness. Thank you for an uplifting and enlightening post.
Katie´s last [type] ..A Simple Guide to Joy Riding


Hi Katie, I agree. I don’t think there’s anything in corporate law that says corporations are supposed to be harmless. But corporations are made up of people–individuals as you say–and people make choices. And if enough people want to earn a living in a way that doesn’t harm others–in whatever way–then corporations will change.

Thinking of that sales job I mentioned: a lot of people quit (including me) because of the way things were run, and the turnover was outrageous. Since turnover is expensive, the company might have to change practices to something more humane and “harmless.” That’s an example of how individuals can change things that seem so much bigger than we are.

Thanks :)


Dear Leah,

First, I love the french toast story – for its humanness and honesty. Not to mention a good laugh – oh, I did mention that!

Doing no harm is worthy of consideration. I find the question of making money without causing harm fascinating.

Working as a psychologist in the forensic/criminal arena I’ve seen court evaluations by clinicians that were clearly “bought” by the defense or prosecution.

It saddens me. The report impacts that defendant’s LIFE. We owe it to that person to determine as best we can the reality of the situation we’re assessing.

I’m finding more and more that I want the money I make to come from uplifting others in whatever way I’m able and capable of. First and foremost that requires authenticity. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed your french toast story so much! :-)

I’m going to give your question more thought as I believe it’s worthy of consideration in a big way.

Be well,


Hi Lauren,

Glad you got a laugh out of the French toast story. I am definitely human! But it wasn’t right–I knew that or I wouldn’t remember it so clearly. I was just choosing between that and ordering a new platter, which would take some time and piss the guy off even more. I chose what seemed to be the lesser of two evils lol It’s still on me, though, to be responsible for my own actions and not worry about someone else’s re-actions. Live and learn.

Very interesting what you say about evaluations being bought by one side or the other. I’ve wondered about that in some corporate-legal type issues I’ve seen and felt sure that favors were going on or payoffs or someone kissing someone’s arse to keep their job. I don’t understand how people can sleep at night.

Glad you think it’s a worthy consideration. I think so too, and I was glad to have Chris’s way of putting it to think about.

Oh and most of the stuff I write about here stems from personal experience. I’ll remember to add a story or two more often :)

John Sherry

Good question Leah! My only answer is that I try not to make money but make a living and that then factors in my own values and standards. When I live by them I earn a living and couldn’t do that with harm. It works for me and I feel good at what I make and not what I take. Living with values is great and what’s the harm in that?
John Sherry´s last [type] ..Go On Have A Go


Hey John, That sounds like a great system. I can see how making money and making a living have different definitions and standards that more easily incorporate your own values. And if the values in your life are about not harming anyone, well then there you go! Good food for thought–thanks!

Angela Artemis

This is a great post – very complex issue here. Having worked in corporate America for decades I can say they really don’t have “harmlessness” on their minds. They may talk a good game and put it out there PR wise, but it’s just talk. Look at the soft-drink industry, or tobacco? How can we sell this crap to people? It does harm. Period. I think we as individuals have to find a balance knowing that just being here on this planet and living the way we all do is doing great harm to Mother Earth. We have the motto: All’s fair in love and war? I’d add business to that too. Not that I agree – but it’s just the way the game has been played.
Angela Artemis´s last [type] ..You Become What You Think About


Hi Angela, I agree; it’s complex. The corporate point is a good one. Even if they have some sort of corporate social responsibility policy, so many of them–as you say–are harming people with the products they sell. McDonalds etc is a biggy in my mind. Big pharm is another one that really, really gets on my last nerve.

But corporations are comprised of people. In theory–stress on the theory part–if some huge number of people decide they don’t want to do work that harms people–or if enough protest–those companies will eventually go out of business or change business interests. Not any time soon, of course, but eventually. In theory, at least. Just think of all the societal pressure against smoking–it’s almost a crime (as an ex-smoker several times over I’m particularly aware of the social pressure to not smoke). If enough individuals think non-harm employment is of value, then they will push against harmful employment just like anti-smoking people do and it just won’t hold up. But that all depends on individuals.

You’re right; it’s how the game has been played. We used to have slaves, too, and women as property and rampant child labor and all sorts of dreadful things. But what if you and I decide we don’t want to play that way–and lots of other people do the same? That would be a revolution, and that’s another way to play the game :)

Madeleine Kolb

Leah, There are many ways to make or try to make money that harm people. We saw a lot of that in the economic collapse in the fall of 2008. The CEO of Washington Mutual Bank, for example, pushed aggressively to churn out huge numbers of sub-prime mortgages, which were then sliced-and-diced as financial instruments of some sort and sold to others.

When the inevitable collapse occurred, the bank failed. It was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. All the employees lost their jobs and their health coverage. Many lost most or all of their life-savings invested in the company, and I imaging that many lost their homes as well. The stock-holders didn’t do so well either.

What about the employees? Were they wrong to go along with this? Some refused and were fired. Perhaps if more employees resisted or resigned or did some whistle-blowing, the whole disaster could have been averted.
Madeleine Kolb´s last [type] ..The Right Stuff Award- Dr Kenneth Cooper


Thanks for your addition, Madeleine, to the ways people can harm others through their means of money-making. Excellent points about the mortgages. I was in real estate for a few years (2006-08) and I was amazed with some people–and saddened, too–who had no clue about how much money it takes to buy a house but HEY, they had a 3% down loan and whatever. Woo-hoo! They were so sucked in, but they couldn’t afford closing costs or anything else and were scared out of their pants. And here I was, inexperienced and assuming they had half a clue–they didn’t. So I didn’t make any money by hauling these people around to look at houses, though I quickly got wise and let them go.

Good point on the employees who suffered. I don’t know about the right and wrong of this. Is it so bad to offer sub-prime mortgages to people? Necessarily and in itself? I got one of the last no-doc loans (as far as I know or from what people tell me) 3 years ago–it required the usual 20% down, which I had, but my work history was shaky (um, real estate lol after a period of not working) so I didn’t have to prove what I was earning, which was zilch. Was that wrong? Risky, at least lol! Was I wrong to take that loan if I couldn’t pay it back and then, indirectly, cause someone who works in home loans to suffer the loss of a job? Now that’s a stretch but something to consider.

I take issue with some lenders I met during that time who were definitely–intentionally–swindlers! They would tell people they can get 0% and then, 2 days before closing, say “OH well that’s not working, you need 3% now.” And they didn’t have it. So they didn’t get their house. And I didn’t get a commission. That is really harmful.

Thanks for the addition to these ideas of how we can harm others with our ways of making money!


I loved the French toast story!! Hey…five second rule, anyway… (ha!)

Making money AND not harming others…really, good stuff to think about. When we are not causing harm in any way, what a great way to be living. Now…to be conscious of this as I go about my days….
Lance´s last [type] ..Progress Is Not Linear


Hi Lance,

Glad you liked the story! Five second rule–lol. I assume the guy lived or I would have heard something :)

Nice that you agree it’s something worthwhile thinking about. I also think about it in everything else I do, and a post about that is coming up soon :)

I checked out your blog–cool. Love the name–that’s so true! Have an awesome day :)


I came into this conversation late, but the bottom line when dealing with money, whether you’re making money or earning money, is INTEGRITY. People with integrity don’t scam, cheat, lie, or practice bad sanitary habits in restaurants. They may even hate the job they are doing, but they have enough character and integrity to know they should do it right because right now it’s their responsibility. If you can’t do that in your job or your company or whatever it is that you are doing, then you don’t belong there. Get out. It’s that simple.

Leah McClellan

Hi Linda,

Welcome, early or late :) Great points! Do you ever get pizza or a sandwich and watch the person making it? Do they wear gloves? Or…do they wear gloves while handling money and whatever else and then go handle the pizza? One place near me doesn’t use gloves at all (though it’s a law) since management changed, and I don’t go there anymore. But I doubt any of the workers think they’re doing anything irresponsible. I suppose different people have different definitions of integrity.
Thanks for stopping by.

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