“But I do care, I care a lot”, he said.
It certainly feels good to hear somebody cares. Especially, if it echoes your care. His words, however, sounded empty without the act of caring.
But then using words without caring about what they meant is a common practice. He is definitely not an exception to that practice. So why would he care about what care meant?
Why is the absence of care the default rather than the exception? Are we uncaring by choice?
If we do care, why are our relationships with each other anything but caring?
If we do care, why are our businesses indifferent to our needs? Or to the environment that sustains their activity?
If we do care, why do we have a climate crisis? If we do care, why are our mountains, forests, and rivers vanishing? Or why, then, are species going extinct? If we do care, why is the integrity of our ecosystem collapsing? Or why do more and more people seek peace and belonging in lands far from where they were born?
Acts of care start with a recognition of the other. They start by ensuring the other will never feel excluded. They progress by actively including the other.
So here are two stories about care. These are stories to observe the care, or the absence of it, among those in the stories. That, perhaps, will help you to recognize that care is the result of our design. Our design of the systems that we participate in and experience care, or its absence, in.
Story One: The Judge
The judge sat on the platform about one and a half feet higher than the rest of the room. From the height he claimed supremacy over those before him. The platform gave him the authority to sit on judgement over everyone and everything. Nothing about him suggested care for those before him.
He seemed bored. Rumour had it that he was getting impatient as he waited to be elevated to the higher court. For him, every day in this court was a waste of his time. He looked up and glared at the petitioner with indifference that bordered on contempt.
The petitioner, as those who petitioned the court of justice were called, struggled to hide embarrassment. He had come to the court of justice to restore the dignity he had been stripped from. For him, the indignity of sitting in front of the judge had come as a surprise, a shock, and a left him feeling uncared for and devasted.
The absence of care was the last thing the petitioner expected. He was shocked that the judge left little room to doubt that he had no care for dignity, even less for justice. Why had he thought this court would deliver justice, he thought in disbelief.
The opponent’s lawyer took the cue from the judge’s look.
“If your lordship is free next month, we can submit our say in response to the petitioner’s claims by then.” The petitioner’s lawyer looked at the opponent’s lawyer and then at the judge and nodded. The petitioner’s lawyer’s face had a smile that seemed to appear and disappear as if to allow the observer to draw whatever meaning they wanted from it and yet its interpretation could be completely denied.
The petitioner looked on in dismay. It was the 52nd hearing as 3 years had gone by, and this was the 5th judge sitting on the platform to deliver justice.
He struggled to put on a brave face and respond with grace and politeness that he missed except in the stories he read about people with character and strength.
Story Two: The Friends
“I don’t even understand what this is anymore”, he said angrily. He spoke to the others, ignoring her completely. The tone of his voice was undisguised in intent to hurt. He did not seek clarification, did not seek to find common purpose for their putting this together or meeting together. His entire focus was about himself, not the document he was commenting on.
“I am very busy” he asserted though he was now retired for over 15 years. “I don’t have the time to implement this, all I can do is tell you what you can do”. His tone was however about what you must do.
She had put together the document at his request to translate the concepts, he had shared the previous week, into a program for a seminar. She had included his ideas, along with those from all on the team to translate them into an exciting minute-by-minute schedule for the program they wished to create.
She listened as the conversation between him, and her other friends proceeded as if she was not there. This was not the first time she experienced the feeling of exclusion, yet that did not make it any easier.
For him, this was clearly an ego trip. His purpose was to assert his power. How can anyone do anything that is better than what he has done? He felt belittled by her putting together a document that so well captured the common purpose. But the common purpose did not satisfy his private purpose of asserting his ego and power.
They had known each other for at least two decades. This wasn’t the first time his ego had crept into the interactions, yet she was taken aback by his lack of care and respect.
Like the recognition of the other, care requires sharing and truly committing to a common purpose for which we come together with the other. But clearly, that is insufficient.
Even when there may be a common purpose that we may admit to, the world we design through our interactions, sadly, has more purposes we wish to accomplish than we may even be open enough to share. Or conscious enough to recognize. To make matters worse, most of our interactions, tainted with our private purposes, have opposite consequences for the different actors in these systems of our own design.
If in the pursuit of our purposes we feel differently from the other, won’t we be uncaring of each other? Our stories suggest some of these opposite feelings even in interactions. Perhaps your mind has even better stories where you can observe care or its absence because of the way you structured your interactions?
Is it, then, a surprise when we rarely care for each other? And a miracle when we do?
In order to truly care, then, we would need to feel similarly as a result of our interactions. That requires that our common purposes should lead us to feel similar pleasure, pain, joy, or dignity in their experience of each of our interactions with the other. And that also requires us to be open with each other, or at least to ourselves, about the other purposes we have that alter our feelings from the interactions. And of course, remain cognizant and open about the purposes changing with time.
A world of care, then is our choice. Our choice of our purposes, openness about them, and ensuring our interactions cause the other to feel the same as us in each interaction.
If we, then, really care about caring, do we owe the other in our interactions the openness to our purposes and the ensuring our interactions are designed to echo our feelings, not mirror them?
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and/or individuals or institutions that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe the same.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph