Caring

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This topic is about practices that promote the well-being of others.

I'm starting with philosopher Milton Mayeroff's book On Caring.

Mayeroff defines caring in its fullest sense as helping a person or thing grow and actualize him-, her-, or itself.[1] For simplicity we can call this person or thing the other. Caring involves seeing the other as part of myself yet respecting its independent existence.[2] Caring doesn't have to be perfect to count as care, but it does need to fulfill those basic requirements.[3]

My fullest type of care is invested in my "appropriate others," by which Mayeroff means those for whom my caring engages me in a comprehensive manner, or "inclusively," as he puts it. This level of caring "involve[s] me deeply and fruitfully order[s] all areas of my life." It enables me to be "in-place," at home, in the world.[4]

Caring involves other qualities:

  • It requires knowledge of the other, myself, and the situation.[5]
  • It involves flowing with the alternating rhythms of action and reflection and of a narrower and wider focus.[6]
  • It requires patience, actively giving the other time and space to grow, allowing for periods of confusion and waste that are necessary for growth.[7]
  • It requires honesty, a search for the truth about the other and my own attempts to help and a genuineness.[8]
  • It requires trust that the other can grow into what it needs to be in spite of its mistakes and without my forceful molding or overprotection. It also requires trusting my ability to care.[9] And it requires the other's trust in the carer.[10]
  • It requires humility, always learning about the other, myself, and what caring involves in each situation. Humility has wide-reaching implications, from recognizing my limitations to seeing the other as more than a means to fulfilling my own needs.[11]
  • It requires hope, a belief that the other in the present has the capacity to grow into something more in the future.[12]
  • It requires courage, the willingness to move into whatever unknown territory the needs of growth take me into.[13]
  • It involves the selflessness of absorption in something that interests me.[14]
  • It requires an orientation toward the process rather than the product, since the present is all we have to work with, though the anticipated product guides our actions.[15]
  • It requires the carer to be able to care for the other and the other to be able to be cared for.[16]
  • It requires a relatively long-term relationship in which both parties are available to each other.[17]
  • It sometimes but not always involves reciprocal care, and some caring relationships naturally end, though they may be transformed into a more mutual relationship at that point.[18]
  • Caring for a person (as opposed to a thing, such as an idea) requires seeing the world from the other person's perspective without losing myself.[19]
  • It requires being on the side of the other person's growth without condescending to them or idolizing them.[20]
  • It involves encouraging the other person to grow, especially through my admiration of their growth.[21]
  • It involves recognizing and encouraging the other person's autonomy in making the decisions they can make.[22]
  • Caring for myself involves seeing myself as an other and as myself at the same time.[23]
  • It involves caring for others.[24]
  • Caring for other people is aided by understanding what growth involves from my experience of caring for myself.[25]

Caring has several effects:

  • Caring results in my own growth, but as a side effect rather than as a purpose of caring.[26]
  • Neglect in a caring relationship leads to guilt, which is overcome by renewed caring.[27]
  • Caring elevates other values related to itself and lowers values that are irrelevant.[28]
  • It enables me to create a home for myself.[29]
  • It creates appropriate others in my life.[30]
  • It creates a meaning for my life.[31]
  • It fosters a sense of stability grounded in knowing what I'm about, in having a place to belong, and in knowing what's important to me.[32]
  • It creates a sense that life is unfinished but fundamentally good enough to live.[33]
  • It creates a sense that life is intelligible, in that I understand my life's purpose, but also a sense that it is unfathomable, in the sense that we all share a fundamentally mysterious existence.[34]
  • It results in autonomy, in the sense that I'm living my own meaning driven by my own concern for my appropriate others rather than living a meaning imposed on me.[35]
  • It fosters faith in my ability to be caring and in the world as a place I want to commit to.[36]
  • By recognizing the uncoerced gift of being able to care and the gift of others' fulfillment of my needs, I feel an intimate dependence on them and a gratitude toward life that I express by continuing to care.[37]

Related blog posts

References

Mayeroff, Milton. 1972. On Caring. Perennial Library. New York: Harper & Row.

Footnotes

  1. Mayeroff 1972, 1
  2. Mayeroff 1972, 5
  3. Mayeroff 1972, 38-40
  4. Mayeroff 1972, 2, 52, 54, 58
  5. Mayeroff 1972, 13-15
  6. Mayeroff 1972, 15-17
  7. Mayeroff 1972, 17-18
  8. Mayeroff 1972, 18-20
  9. Mayeroff 1972, 20-22
  10. Mayeroff 1972, 45-46
  11. Mayeroff 1972, 23-25
  12. Mayeroff 1972, 25-27
  13. Mayeroff 1972, 27-28
  14. Mayeroff 1972, 29-30
  15. Mayeroff 1972, 31-32
  16. Mayeroff 1972, 33-34
  17. Mayeroff 1972, 34
  18. Mayeroff 1972, 36-38
  19. Mayeroff 1972, 41-44
  20. Mayeroff 1972, 42-43
  21. Mayeroff 1972, 44-45
  22. Mayeroff 1972, 46-47
  23. Mayeroff 1972, 47
  24. Mayeroff 1972, 48
  25. Mayeroff 1972, 48-49
  26. Mayeroff 1972, 30
  27. Mayeroff 1972, 36-38
  28. Mayeroff 1972, 51-54
  29. Mayeroff 1972, 54-58
  30. Mayeroff 1972, 58-62
  31. Mayeroff 1972, 62-65
  32. Mayeroff 1972, 68-72
  33. Mayeroff 1972, 72-74
  34. Mayeroff 1972, 74-78
  35. Mayeroff 1972, 78-83
  36. Mayeroff 1972, 83-85
  37. Mayeroff 1972, 85-87