Growing up I often heard the phrase “You shouldn’t care so much.”
Derivatives of this idea included: So what if they’re talking about you. Who cares what they think? He’s a jerk; why do you care about him? You’re your own person; why do you care about what she’s doing?
I associated the word “care” with stress, because in all these instances, caring meant feeling bad.
It meant being overly worried about someone’s opinion of me, or feeling for someone who didn’t feel for me, or thinking someone was somehow better than me.
I frequently responded, “What kind of person would I be if I didn’t care?”
I also argued that not caring could be a limiting choice.
Sometimes someone else’s criticism contains a valuable lesson. Sometimes someone who seems like a jerk really needs someone to take a chance on him (or her). Sometimes someone else’s choices help us illuminate the path we really want to take.
If we decide to stop caring in all instances that might push and challenge us, we risk closing ourselves off to insights, relationships, and ideas that could change our lives for the better—and potentially do the same for others.
I’ve since realized that the real message isn’t to stop caring, but instead to recognize how we care and why so that we don’t give our power away.
Sometimes we care with love; sometimes we care with fear. Sometimes we care with self-respect; sometimes we care with self-contempt. Sometimes we care with a sense of possibility; sometimes we care with fears of inferiority.
The important thing is that we don’t let caring about people or circumstances detract from our ability to care for ourselves.
A friend of mine recently told me she’s stopped caring about what people expect of her. Knowing that she values those relationships, I concluded that she really meant she stopped stressing about how well she met their expectations.
She essentially decided to stop worrying about things outside her control, and focus instead on all the things that were within her power.
That’s what it means to care for ourselves: to do our best and celebrate that, even as we keep learning and growing.
Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series, Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions.
My upcoming book is called Apathy is Noxious: The power of giving a damn. I really like the way it is shaping up. The book is a step on the path to getting what I believe is the most important message: Care More.
After thinking a lot about it, I realized that if I could change one thing in the world. It would be to get people to care more. I believe that harnessing our power to care is life changing, world changing, and downright transformational on every level.
It might sound trite but think about it for a second. How often have you said to yourself “I think that if I just cared more that would solve this problem?”
How often have you thought, if that person or group just cared more then this problem would be solved?
Kind of interesting right? Most of us have found ourselves lamenting the lack of care that we see in another group of people. Maybe even sometimes getting upset because how much we care about something is getting in our way: We care about a person and they hurt us. We care about a cause and we see it fail our ideals. We care about an aspect of our life and we loose it.
Then it turns into blame. It must be someone besides us that is messing this all up, right?
What if I were to tell you, no?
What if I were to tell you that if you really cared about yourself and others that it would blow the doors off what you have been up to now calling your life.
The truth is that there is a place inside of you that is so full of love for you and for everything around you that when you tap into it you will no longer be caring because you are expecting an outcome. You will care because it is who you are.
When you look at an aspect of your life, you will know that it is not like that because you don’t have the right amount of money or because you couldn’t get the love of someone you were interested in but because you did not care enough to do what it takes to make it something different.
And that is something most people do not want to hear.
Because it means that they are both the problem and the solution.
So, look at your life, look at your relationships and your work. Are they the way that you want them to be? Ask yourself am I caring as much about myself as this other person, idea, or thing? And, am I caring as much about this person, idea, or thing, as I am caring about myself?
Is there a way that I can care more? What would I do if I was willing do care more?
Ask and act on these questions and, trust me, your life will change.
A lot of times, especially when working with women, we hear that they over-give, over-accept, and over-care. These people might hear my message, “Care more” and say to themselves “The solution to being more successful and fulfilled can’t possibly be to care more? Can it?”
Well, actually, yes.
But, if you are one of these people, you don’t need to care more about others – you need to care more about yourself.
If you are hurting, you are not caring for yourself. You are hoping that if you care for someone or something else that you will get that care back.
Caring should not hurt, period.
Sometimes, people get caught in the trap of shutting off their care because they got hurt one too many times and don’t want it to happen again.
If this is you, you may respond to the message, “Care More” with “No way that always ends badly! Isn’t it smarter to make sure I can trust that there will be a good outcome before I invest my care?”
Well, while you always want to use your head, basically, no.
If you are one of these people, I have one question for you: How is it working? Have you managed to stop getting yourself hurt?
The problem with cutting off your care is that as humans, we want to care. It feels better to care! When we cut off our caring due to fear it leads to numbness and you will not find fulfillment from being numb, trust me.
So, your solution is the same as above. You need to be able to care for yourself exquisitely to be able to care for others.
Lastly, there are people who believe it is all dog-eat-dog and that all this caring stuff is the worst. They are not on my list. In fact, they think that I am super annoying. All they need to do, is live in the world that they built…
Caring requires the willingness to feel pain. I am not being morose or dramatic. It is a plain fact that we do not like to talk about and a big reason why we try to care less. The more we care the more we risk our comfort –that is if we call denial comfortable.
The willingness to persist in the face of the this healthy pain that will occur inevitably in the course of our caring and continually figure out how to care more is a signpost of true adulthood. And really becoming less apathetic is about becoming a healthy whole adult.
Unfortunately, most of us have not been clued in to this important truth. We learn to withdraw when we feel the pain rather than open and move forward.
Our lives get smaller.
Our fulfillment wanes.
Before we know it we are sleep walking through our life. Then what happens? Maybe nothing, just the tragedy of wasted life. Or maybe something something big shakes us awake. Like the death of someone close to us or a serious illness and all of a sudden we realize what’s truly important. We start really caring because of the recognition that we don’t have very much time or might not have very much time. And now, it’s in our face that if we don’t start leaning into life we might never have a chance to do it.
There is only one solution to this predicament. We need to stop numbly staying our comfort zone and figure out what is important to us. We need to be willing to care about what is important to us and let nothing get in the way of our caring.