Image via WikipediaWhat do you think of when you hear the word "caring"? Is it something childish, superficial, overly sweet? Silly?
Caring is one of those words like compassion and love and God that has lost a lot of its mojo because of overuse and abuse. But caring is still important. It is another way to understand those other words, and its at the heart of spirituality, whether or not one embraces that term or practices a particular religion.
So is it really reasonable and worthwhile to care?
The fact is, it is hard to truly care sometimes. Caring, i.e. an expression of genuine love or compassion or loving-kindness directed toward someone or something, requires that we understand them and that we accept them. It can't be superficial. It can be faked to a small degree but it can't be forced.
Caring is an expression of radical exposure and risk. It means accepting the object of compassion without conditions. This isn't the same as giving into someone all of the time or being co-dependent. But it means that as they grow or change (and this is a perpetual process that cannot be stopped anyway) we don't abandon them. No, this doesn't mean never moving or never ending a formal relationship either. It means not giving up on someone as worthy and valuable, even when they disappoint us even if we cannot be around them for our safety or theirs.
People dig caring. They really do. And while it might be nice to one day learn how to be vulnerable enough to make our hearts big enough to encompass everyone in genuine caring, we still need that relationship with individuals to make the process possible. Even if we can only genuinely care for a handful of people, the healing and inspiration that can give ripples out to touch so many others.
So why is it that the traditions and institutions of individuals who exemplify such caring relationships seem to be so awful at following the examples of their founders and heroes? Why do those following the examples of Moses, Buddha, Jesus Mohammed, etc seem so bad at emulating this quality?
There is never a one-size fits all answer to this, but I think a large part of it is that we try to fake it. We don't want to really know others as they truly are, and rub up against each other without the veneer of dull politeness. And we certainly don't want to admit that we are lying to ourselves, ignoring our darker side and hiding or even denying our flaws.
I think this is why we sense in any public setting, but especially in places of worship, that some people are really genuine and that others (many others) are faking it. Smiling with their lips but not their eyes. Saying pleasant things in person and gossiping behind backs.
I mean, if you think about it, if compassion and the act of caring come from understanding, and if understanding comes from truly knowing something or someone, then how can anyone really act on that caring if they don't really and truly get to know one another?
Yes, it is possible that just as we learn to understand and have compassion on ourselves and then extend that understanding and compassion to those closest to us, we can over time learn to extend that understanding further and further, genuinely offering it even to strangers. However, you can't just skip to that last part, and too many of us don't bother with the beginning. It's just so much easier to "try" to care, to "want" to extend loving-kindness, and so on.
People trust you when you care. People support you when you care. Even when the shit hits the fan and there is no good reason, even belief in some eternal paradise or torment, that is going to make them take your side. At least those who can be open and accept your compassion.
In business, religion, or with family and friends, caring isn't just the morally prescribed right thing to do. It is the outgrowth of our own self-reflection and honesty. It is liberating. It is empowering. And it is cumulative. Each time your heart is broken there is a chance to expand it a little more. No pain, no gain.
So yes, it is worth both learning how to be cared for and how to care for others. And no, you don't have to be a little bear with a colorful tattoo on your chest to accept it.