Analyzing Benefits and Harms with Thairaav


“Am I doing the right thing? Is this right for the community I am trying to serve?”




In my recent daily columns and weekly video on the movie “Oppenheimer,” I have been wrestling with how to best process possible benefits and harms in any given situation, from small and personal to large and societal. It seemed to me that that challenge is part of the dramatic conflict in the movie. To end World War II, were the benefits of saving American lives by dropping 2 atomic bombs in 3 days on Japan worth the harm to the Japanese and the unleashing of a powerful new weapon that could later destroy the world we know?

In doing these columns, I usually try to peruse a variety of news to find items that have social psychiatric importance. So, in other recent news, I saw that the same challenge has taken place in the jury’s decision about sentencing for the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter. Would the benefits of the death sentence, which was picked, outweigh the harms felt by others who morally decry any capital punishment by death?

The conundrum is commonplace in the climate crisis, as described in an article in the new issue of TIME by Aryn Baker/Georgia titled “Extreme Heat Is Endangering America's Workers—and Its Economy.”1 What can we do best each day to contribute to slowing down climate instability while still practically leading our lives? A brief article in the same issue is on “6 Healthy Ways to Deal With Anger” rather than it be destructive.2 Then, as if confirming the challenge, there is the article “Here's How Bad a Nuclear War Would Actually Be” in it.3 Indeed, this balancing act is in many, if not most, of the articles in the issue.

Moreover, in yet another article in the issue, I found what I think is the right description of how to process these decisions. It is in the article “The Workers Behind AI Rarely See Its Rewards. This Indian Startup Wants to Fix That” by Billy Perrigo.4 It is about a new model that describes itself as “the world’s first ethical data company,” which reportedly covers its costs and then diverts the rest to the rural poor who are creating the data for artificial intelligence in native languages like Kannada. Data for English speakers is already widely available, but for languages like Kannada, more data needs to be created.

The company is called Karya, and the CEO is Manu Chopra. In growing the company, he has come to define his approach with a Hindi word that he feels conveys a concept missing from the English language. The term is thairaav, which he derived from Indian classical music. He translates it as a mixture between “pause” and “thoughtful impact.” In everyday usage, what it means to him is to pause and think of the answers to such questions as:

“Am I doing the right thing? Is this right for the community I am trying to serve?”

Of course, in a crisis, the reaction must be immediate and quick, so less time for thinking about it is available until afterwards.

Nevertheless, without trying to do so, Chopra seems to be operationalizing how to put into practice the ethical principles of the American Psychiatric Association, which is both to put the needs of the patient first, but to also try to improve the mental health of the community whenever possible.5

Thairaav. Let’s just say that it is our social psychiatric word of the day.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Baker A. Extreme heat is endangering America's workers—and its economy. TIME. August 3, 2023. Accessed August 4, 2023.

2. Haupt A. 6 Healthy ways to deal with anger. TIME. July 18, 2023. Accessed August 4, 2023.

3. Tegmark M. Here's how bad a nuclear war would actually be. TIME. June 29, 2023. Accessed August 4, 2023.

4. Perrigo B. The workers behind ai rarely see its rewards. This Indian startup wants to fix that. TIME. July 27, 2023. Accessed August 4, 2023.

5. The Principles of Medical Ethics, with Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

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