1. the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
2. serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk.
1. feel concern or interest; attach importance to something.
2. look after and provide for the needs of.
Take a second to really think about what the word ‘care’ means to you. When you care about something or someone, and I mean really, truly care about it/them, how does it make you feel? Dedicated? Concerned? Vulnerable? Contented? Like you’re not alone? Like you are alone? In love? Responsible? Committed? A transcending of spirit – as if your concern is projecting beyond your corporeality and inner being towards something ‘other’ in a way that cannot be grasped? A concern that you cannot alter or dampen – no matter how much you might try to ignore it. Does caring make you feel a bit helpless? Does it make you feel stronger? Does it make you feel alive? Does it make you feel like a parent or guardian? Or a shepherd? Does it feel natural to care? Or does it feel alien? Do you ever wish you didn’t care so much? Or do you wish you were able to care a little more?
I know I’ve felt all of these things at different times in my life – and I believe that I am quite a caring individual. I know I could and should care more about certain things. And I know that sometimes I actually need a jolt of guilt before I realise when I should be caring. Which I don’t believe is an ideal way of being, yet is undeniably human. But I also know I care a lot; about my family, my friends and my fellow beings. And I care about my town. And my country. And the planet. And the universe. Sometimes thinking about caring can be overwhelming – am I always available when my friends really need me? Do I check in with my mum or dad as much as I should? Is a bit of recycling here and there actually going to save the planet? Should I be vegan? Should I at least insist on only eating food which is ethically sourced? Am I caring enough generally?
The truth is, it is you and only you who can decide how much you want to care about the things that define and determine your existence. Just as there are some things that you will care about, even though you wish you didn’t. We are not beholden to rationality in the same way we are to emotions. But as far as ‘choosing to care’ goes, I would simply suggest that the old Tesco marketing adage (other more ethically conscious food providers are available) applies in this instance – every little helps. If everyone on the planet cared just that little bit more, just think how much brighter the world could be? And I believe it is our responsibility – those of us who wish to care more and see compassion increase in societies – to spread that message to others through education, love and kindness.
Anyone who has read any of my other blogs will know the importance I place on Taoism and its teachings – and to care about, nurture and protect others and the planet is a key tenet of the Taoist philosophy. To go with the flow, be like water and respect our natural environment and the way of the universe is what Taoism is all about. And these sentiments run deep in the ontological, existential and phenomenological philosophy of Martin Heidegger in Being and Time. He places his own definition of ‘care’ (or sorge in German) right at the heart of the meaning of our human being – which he terms Dasein.
Heidegger’s Dasein and care
The concept of care as illustrated by Heidegger in Being and Time is a particular deviation from the definition given at the beginning of this post. He ties it to his notion of Dasein (human existence) and suggests that a human being understands itself in terms of what it takes care of – care is the meaning of the being of Dasein. Allow me to elaborate further by referring back to my definitions of the Heideggerian concepts of Dasein and care from an earlier blog to give you the context we need to proceed.
“Life has its own kind of being – but it is essentially accessible only in Dasein,” writes Heidegger. “Dasein is a being which I myself am, its being is in each case mine.” Probably the key concept at the heart of Heidegger’s philosophy, Dasein (German for being = Sein, and there = Da – and so, ‘being there’) is a human being’s individual existence. He explains it as ‘being there’ in terms of what he calls its thrownness into the world. Dasein is essentially a replacement for consciousness and mind. The place of the human being – the ‘there’ where human beings are.
Heidegger suggests the Dasein is primordial – and it is certainly difficult to think about anything that might precede our human being, other than perhaps this realm we currently reside in and any other that we perhaps came from initially of which we are unaware. A being with Dasein is a being that has the capability to be concerned about and reflect on the nature of its own being. Heidegger describes the meaning of Dasein as care – which compels us to ‘take note’ of all the things around us, our world and other Daseins. Care allows us to encounter the useful things around us – it helps us to ‘see’ the world and its contents, appreciate them and thus understand and become attuned to them.
Care in Heidegger-speak is like a familiarity and acknowledging of the world and its contents around us, including those other beings with Dasein. But, most importantly for me anyway, I think it is a part of our being linked to our nurturing instinct; our will to ‘look after’ – the same part of our being which comes to the fore when we produce offspring or feel the desire to look after others or things which matter to us.
Dasein orients itself in the world based on the things within it – and it is care and concern that helps us to discover them; it discloses them to us. Care is primordial – it’s a priori; it takes precedence and Dasein understands itself in terms of what it takes care of. And care is grounded in temporality – care needs “time” and reckons with time. With care, there is always potentiality and possibilities which keep Dasein ahead of itself and never whole; Dasein has a “constant unfinished quality”, according to Heidegger.
Care crops up
So now that we’ve covered the commonly understood definition of care as well as the Heideggerian concept, are we able to explicate their significance in the way we live our lives? I could list various examples of the way we care about other beings with which we co-exist, but I think it’s pretty obvious by now that human beings undoubtedly have this capacity to nurture, protect and look after things. What is interesting is the way our ‘will to care’ is cropping up more and more frequently in something we appear to be consuming with a greater regularity with each passing week – Netflix content!
There is a nice article examining this idea by Bim Adewunmi for Buzzfeed, which cites hit philosophy show The Good Place and Groundhog Day-inspired dark comedy Russian Doll as programmes for which the “key to getting through life is by being kind to one another”. “At the heart of these shows is a radical humanity,” says Adewunmi. “Selling very convincingly the idea that while we might all die alone, the key to getting through life lies in the collective. That we must seek help, and we must band together, and keep those bonds strong, even when faced with difficult conditions.” And these aren’t the only new shows which seem to have notions of ‘care’ and ‘togetherness’ at the heart of their being – Ricky Gervais’ latest comic offering After Life focuses on an embittered and depressed journalist who is struggling to come to terms with life after the death of his beloved wife.
Like humanity itself, these shows aren’t perfect. And they’re not necessarily the greatest things available to watch on Netflix. But I reckon they’re all pretty decent. Barbara Ellen of The Guardian suggests that the “problem” with After Life is its “wildly swerving tone – from obnoxious to sentimental to caustic to maudlin to pointlessly vile”, and this is certainly a fair comment. But at its core After Life feels inextricably human. It is raw and rough, and deep down it is fuelled by a yearning for togetherness, compassion and care. And, like The Good Place and Russian Doll, it’s proving to be another huge success for Netflix. So there appears to be something about our compulsion to care and our desire to actually witness care and love and compassion prevail that taps into something within our being. We want to care. We want to be cared for. And we want to see care ‘win’, if you like.
I’ve picked out a few lines from After Life that I think demonstrate our will to care quite beautifully. In an exchange with Gervais’ character Tony at the graveside of their late partners, Penelope Wilton’s Anne shares some wisdom in a kind-hearted attempt to help shift the dark clouds circling her forlorn new companion. After deciding not to commit suicide, Tony resolves to live as if nothing or no one else matters; he can essentially now do what he wants – because he can always opt instead for his back-up plan, which is simply to kill himself. He suggests this newfound freedom is like having a ‘superpower’ and there are certainly similarities to be drawn with the moral-making capacity of a kind of Nietzschean superman; once one becomes the master of their own morality, they are free to do as they wish.
But as anyone who has read my blog on Nietzsche and Niceness knows, this notion of existential freedom is very difficult to come to terms with. We can’t just go around doing whatever we want – even if we didn’t have laws or rules, there seems to be something within us that cares about the needs and rights of others. Not everyone abides by this kind of Kantian moral code or self-perpetuating behavioural guide but, for the most part, human beings clearly do have a tendency towards acting morally which seems to transcend our being. Anyway, back to After Life, where Tony is struggling to continue his new belligerent, reckless ways, leading Anne to tell him:
“You can’t not care about things you actually care about. Good people do good things for other people. That’s it. The end.”
And she’s right. They really do. Why? Well, I have my own ideas on that which I’ll discuss in a second. But there’s another wonderful line in After Life that I have to share. Tony is talking about the prospect of death and ‘being with’ his partner Lisa again. His brother-in-law and boss Tom questions such an idea, as Tony is an atheist, to which Tony replies: “I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her.” For me, this captures the idea of nothingness that I have written about in other blogs beautifully. And it also captures the power of love, care and togetherness. While we are alive, we need to stick together, be there for each other and forge these kind of relationships. And when we do pass on to death, we will be together again. In nothingness. At rest.
It wouldn’t be a Being & Niceness blog without a brief mention of my key philosophical ideas. For anyone new to my work, Genuinity is basically what I call our true selves in their truest form – a childish, feminine inner voice which is led by one’s kindness, compassionate instincts and loving nature. It is influenced by many philosophical schemes of thought, but most pertinently Taoism and Freud’s Eros.
I have to come share a particular affinity with the humanistic side of existentialism and I believe that care, in both the literal and Heideggerian sense, is a vital a tool for explaining the meaning of being. In this sense, I believe that care and Genuinity go hand in hand, if you will. Just as Heidegger believed that care and concern were the meaning of the being of humans, I believe that Genuinity (or love, compassion and kindness) are the meaning of being. Yes, one might argue that human beings have the capacity for barbarism, wickedness and ‘evil’ in equal measure to their capacity for kindness. But I choose to see the darker side of our being as an error. I do not wish to be defined by such traits. I want us to be remembered as a species who cared.
Taoism and care
I would like to take this opportunity to share a few lines from the Tao Te Ching with you to express the significance of care in Taoism. The philosophy, which has its roots in ancient China and the work of Lao-Tzu, is all about working with the natural order and The Way of the universe. It is about appreciating life for what it is and taking joy in its simplicity. It teaches us that courage comes from caring – and as Benjamin Hoff shows us in The Tao of Pooh, the Latin for heart is cor. Bravery and compassion and extrinsically linked. Hoff also demonstrates the Tao Te Ching message that ‘those who have no compassion have no wisdom’. Knowledge and wisdom are different things. Knowledge doesn’t care, wisdom does. Here are a few more lines from the Tao Te Ching which resonate in relation to care…
Respect the world as your self – the world can be your lodging. Love the world as your self – the world can be your trust.
Give birth and cultivate. Do not possess. Act without dependence. Excel but do not rule.
Things grow and grow, but each goes back to its root. Going back to the root is stillness. Understanding the ordinary is enlightenment. Mind opens. Leading to compassion. Nobility.
Sage – always helps all people and beings. Rejects none. This is called practising brightness. Good person is the bad person’s teacher.
Good people do not quarrel. The wise are not learned. The learned are not wise. The sage is not inquisitive – has enough. Doing for others – giving to others – has more.
Sages create harmony under heaven. Treat people good. Trust them. Sages become the world’s children.
Care is what we are
And so, we have arrived at the end of this series – Accessible Inquiries into the Nature of Being. I shall end as I began the whole process – by referring to Heidegger and his brilliant Being and Time. Heidegger recites a short yet powerful fable by the Roman poet and Latin author Hyginus in his magnum opus. The fable, which was later adapted by Goethe in his own defining text Faust, illuminates the significance of care in the make-up of humankind and, I think, rather beautifully captures the essence of human beings as beings to which care is inherent. Here it is…
“Once when “Care” was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took a piece and began to shape it. While she was thinking about what she had made, Jupiter came by. “Care” asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, Jupiter forbade this and demanded that it be given his name instead. While “Care” and Jupiter were arguing, Earth (Tellus) arose, and desired that her name be conferred upon the creature, since she had offered it part of her body. They asked Saturn to be the judge. And Saturn gave them the following decision, which seems to be just: “Since you, Jupiter, have given its spirit, you should receive that spirit at death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since ‘Care’ first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called ‘homo’, for it is made out of humus (earth).”
Perhaps, then, the meaning of life, the nature of being, and the reason for existence is, simply, to care. Maybe that’s all there is to it. Care – about yourself, your fellow human beings, the other beings among us, the earth, the universe, life, existence. All of it. Appreciate what we have and look after our world with the kind of care that brings the best out of us – love, compassion and kindness. Thanks for reading.