Do you care?

This is a picture of me about 4 years old with a kitten.  My father took slides and this one was so old and underexposed that I had to have it professionally dealt with to reveal even this much detail.  But I like it.  To me it shows that 4 year old Mary knew how to care – and that my care was acceptable.

To care – to take care – to care about – to care for…

Since I was a small child I have had the desire to care. This deep desire is found in many living beings – maybe all. It interests and disturbs me that when I express it, this desire to care has been sometimes met by others with a mixture of ambivalence, diminishment, distrust, even mocking or by suggestions that it is somehow inappropriate, excessive, misguided or a bit sad – rather than it being accepted as just the care that I desired to show.

My desire to care has, at times, been associated with a peculiarly negative image of mothering – as if I must be a smothering or insensitive mother, more concerned with my own needs and desires than the needs and desires of those I care for.  I am sorry to say this has mostly come from men – rather than other women.

Yes – my experience of being cared for at birth and through my childhood was not ideal.  The experience of Lemn Sissay’s was far worse, and yet it is clear that he cares deeply and has made a very positive impact with his caring.  Yes – we can displace our need for care by attempting to care for others, not always meeting their actual needs – and it is essential to become aware of this.  But is this all that is going on when others push back, belittle or criticise our care for them?  Of course it is more complicated, involving individual histories and circumstances.

But is it sometimes that they are expressing a fear of the whole realm of care?  Fear of their own vulnerability and need for care?  Their own lack of care and caring?

To care is the foundation of love and of compassion.  We need to talk more about caring, not just side-line it to the arena of care for the ultra-vulnerable – the very young, elderly, disabled and dying.  We need to examine our own relationship with care.  Do we care?  What do we care about?  How do we care?  Are we caring enough?  How easy is it to just not care?

We need to urgently look at our own lives through the lens of care – to begin to find the best ways to care for ourselves, each other and our whole environment.  Each of us needs to more identify with Mother Earth – to challenge the misogynistic negative mother image that is insidious in Western culture and the relegation of care to “carers.”

It is often said that one needs to learn to take care of oneself first before being able to care for others – and there is some wisdom in this.  But my experience is that it is more a case of slowly learning to include myself in my caring – to continue to care deeply about others, but also include myself in that care.  Sometimes I need to focus more on caring for myself, when it clearly is not happening enough – but also to keep desiring to care about everything.

Author: MaryAb

Born in upstate New York. Moved to the UK in 1971. At home in Devon.

Author: MaryAb

Born in upstate New York. Moved to the UK in 1971. At home in Devon.

8 thoughts on “Do you care?”

  1. Being cared for – a sticky subject for me. I used to fantasize about going to either prison or hospital to get caring. I also cared for others as a way of gaining importance and identity for myself.
    I couldn’t allow myself to be cared for as I distrusted the world and everyone in it because of too much hurt in my early life.

    As the new brain research is showing, caring, relational behaviours can easily be ruptured by a wrong word, gesture or movement, necessitating repair before things can move forward
    Allowing an open, aware presence at a deep level seems to be one of the most helpful and caring ways of being.
    I was reminded of what I think is an NLP saying- ‘ the response you get is the meaning of your communication’
    This can be difficult to take on board but can be quite telling to investigate.

    ‘Zen and the Art of Helping’ by David Brandon is a fantastic little book about caring – and when not to!

    1. I knew you would feel this one. Brandon’s book was one I read in the 80s and later recommended to my students when we looked at “reasons for wanting to be a therapist” – until it went out of print. I tried to be quite tough on my students in terms of challenging any reasons they came up with for wanting to do this work. Do you know Lemn Sissay’s story? Different from yours but also very difficult.

      Yes – deep, open, aware presence. Find a way there and then ask, “What do you desire?” It’s a practice in opening to desire I think.

      1. Just to remind you Caroline:

        Being Seen
        For Caroline

        Sometimes I feel invisible –
        others seeing just what
        they expect to see –
        not who I am inside.
        I float away,
        distant and alone.

        Your hand,
        warm on my shoulder,
        is all I need
        to bring me back
        down to ground.

        Mary Booker 19.05.2015

  2. My mother was a carer but someone who cared too much, gave too much throughout her life and was unable to really receive. I realised last week as I moved by the weeping cherry planted in commemoraiton of her, that my capacity for love and kindness came from her and that all my niggles about her are insignificant. She was able to receive from me and other family members during the last days of her life and for that I am so grateful.

  3. This is such difficult territory, isn’t it?
    How do I report myself/selves reliably to myself (never mind to anyone else)?
    My first response is that I have no desire to care. None whatsoever. It’s quite a shock to say that. But it’s also normal for me. Fortunately, I do care. I care about all sorts of things and people and ideas and places. But I have no desire to care. I really have no say in the matter. So I can see that if I were Hannibal Lecter, I would have no desire to care and I would not care.
    I can qualify this. Sometimes I think I ought to care and that can lead to my doing caring things. And caring things can lead me to care. Or not.
    Sometimes I get a sentimental (as in feeling of the mind – not pejorative) sense that caring will make things better (for others, for me, for the situation, for the world) and that may lead me to do caring things. And, as above, the practice of doing caring things can lead me to care. Or not.
    But caring is generally speaking either a discipline (like spending a morning working on my project) which can be rewarding or lovely or tiresome or many things all at once… or it just happens (like staying up all night looking after a feverish child). In the latter case, it just happens; it’s obvious; I’m pleased to have done it; I benefit from it and the child (or whoever) benefits. But even there, it seems that the drive/impetus/impulse is to do a caring thing (lift cold bumblebee off the ground; hug sad person; write to Monsanto) rather than a desire to care.
    Yet, in all this, I don’t feel like a cold fish. Or a monster. Though I sometimes describe myself as autistic as a shorthand for this. When I first came across the Watson Caring Science Institute I was disgusted by its lizard-like approach to something that I thought should be an art not a science. But, on reflection, I came to see that how I am is rather aligned with caring science and not so much aligned with art.
    So I suppose it would be important for me to discriminate between my reaction to someone’s care and my reaction to their desire to care. I would be a bit allergic to a desire to care because it reminds me that I haven’t got that desire and it isn’t easy to feel good or even neutral about that.
    I could go on. I already feel a bit like a skinless onion for saying this. Thank you so much for raising it, Mary.

    Oh! PS. My falling away words are “I don’t care”. When I say ‘falling away words’, I mean that most people seem to have a form of words they use when they feel defeated, lost, unhappy, unlucky. They may be ‘I give up’ or ‘I’m no good’ or ‘I’m stupid’ or whatever. Mine are ‘I don’t care’.

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