I'd like now to talk about caring.
I believe it has a whole lot to do with the survival of our species and
the quality of life on the planet; and while most of us seem to think that
we know what it means to care, I don't think we do.
I was confused for a long time about
what it meant to care. My parents said they cared when they spanked me.
At other times, they asserted that caring was something that was demonstrated
by the carrying out of certain acts—like covering my mouth and saying "excuse
me" when I sneezed, sending "thank you" notes, or holding the door for
you—simply because they were prescribed or expected. Caring also seemed
to be a quality that other people possessed, but which I somehow hopelessly
I know now that any particular act can
be one of either caring or of deception and that what I actually
intend is what determines which of these it is. I realize that
caring is not "politeness" or something which one ought to
be or do; nor is it "selflessness." These are forms of "pretending" or
"posing," which are essentially care-less. I also know now
that caring for myself is not in opposition to caring for you.
Caring is not a "technique" or a collection
of techniques. It is, in fact, precisely and essentially that which is
technique, that which is non-instrumental; it does not entail an "I'll
do this for you if you do that for me" dynamic. (However, if I have agreed
to do something for you, caring does involve fulfilling my commitment.)
When I am caring for you, I am genuinely
concerned about your best interest and am with you in a way
that makes real my concern. This means that I value your being who you
are and want what is best for you, what will most contribute to your healing,
growth and fulfillment. In some instances, this will mean that I will get
less of what I want for myself. For example, you may discover that it is
very important for your career to attend a school in Chicago (which will
take you away from me for a while). If I care about you, I will value and
support your going, even though what I want for me is to have you with
Caring for you also means that I don’t
hide what I want for myself. I don’t pretend, for example, that it does
not distress me to anticipate our being apart. And caring for you doesn’t
mean that I sacrifice what’s in my best interest.
I enact and demonstrate my caring by
genuinely attending to you; by participating
with you; by authentically revealing myself to you; and by
respectfully negotiating our inevitable differences. Attending
is not a "smothering," which is a pretense of caring, but a sensitive and
concernful embodiment of my genuine interest in knowing who you are—your
likes and dislikes, your hopes and dreams, your passions, your disappointments
and successes. I call this ongoing process dialoguing. Caring
is lived out in the dialogue.
In our coming together, we already have
something to say to one another. This "something" is either pleasing or
disturbing, maybe a little, maybe a lot. Dialoguing involves the honest
sharing of this "something." When it is held back, for example from fear
of hurting someone or of looking foolish, it "hangs darkly" between us,
disturbing us both.
Dialoguing is not the same as conversing,
although it sometimes takes place during conversation. Nor is it always
verbal, although it very often is (a wink, a smile or a caress, if honest,
A rarely considered, but essential aspect
of caring is accepting care. This, too, unfolds in the dialogue.
Without this acceptance, caring is not possible.
The destructive things we do--lying
and cheating, taunting and teasing, blaming, punishing, coercing, neglecting
and withdrawing--we do in a perverse effort to be cared about because we
believe that others don't care about us and won't otherwise give us what
we need. When we do these destructive things we are also trying to evade
the pain of discovering that significant others don’t (and didn’t)
really care about us.
Ironically, it is just such "toxic"
being that sabotages the possibility of care. It inevitably brings about
the very loss of care that we were struggling so hard to avoid, and obstructs
the growth of care. On the other hand, it is the willingness to truly dialogue,
to risk being real—and perhaps discover that we are disliked or unwanted—that
makes genuine care possible.
Of course, not everyone is willing to
take this risk. My openness with you may well frighten you and provoke
you to "attack" me (or defend yourself) in some way. Nevertheless, it is
only when I "come from care" that I am able to realize that that response
demonstrates your toxicity, your attempt to
flee from pain, rather than my unworthiness. My coming from
care serves me, then, by helping me recognize and accept genuine care.
Unfortunately, when we were young those
who were entrusted with our care often deeply wounded us when we ventured
to "speak" our truths: They disappointed us, hurt us, let us down, and
scared us. As a result, genuine caring may very often seem difficult and
dangerous and not to be trusted. Moreover, we are restrained from being
caring and recognizing genuine care to the degree that we have not dealt
effectively with our unexpressed pain—to the degree that we have not lived
it through in full measure.
Nevertheless, authentic caring is a
most exciting and fulfilling way of being with others, one that I believe
almost all of us want, even when it seems like such a distant possibility.
I also believe that nearly all of us are capable of caring deeply and enduringly,
and that it’s worth striving for.
E. Linn, Ph.D. • Empowering People