Heart specialist: Well, sir, your stressed condition is caused by an over-active sense of responsibility.
Patient: You mean I care too much?
Heart specialist: Precisely.
So what is the antidote to the person who worries too much and is fearful for the sensibilities of others? What about the person who interprets worrying as being loving and caring, or experiences high levels of ‘natural concern’. “I’m concerned, naturally.”
For most of the people around me, the problems come not when they care but when they allow that caring to be detrimentally invasive. Parents, teachers, the State, all have a vested interest in caring, and the very caring starts to damage the people they care about. Caring can become imprisonment – literally. How many people do you know who are in a caring claustrophobic family or work environment from which they are desperate to escape?
We see this in the environment, with people driving their large 4×4 vehicles three miles to drop off half a dozen bottles at the bottle bank ‘because they care’. Someone called this “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel”. We see this in overprotective parents cushioning their children from the harder realities of life ‘because they care’ and wondering why they never seemed to grow up. We see this in health, with people becoming ill as a result of obsessions with cleanliness ‘because they care’ – they have been unable to build up the very antibodies to disease they need to protect them, or worse, their family hasn’t. Yes, it is possible to care too much – and steal responsibility away from the person you are trying to protect.
And then there is the tyranny of ‘What Will People Think?” Of course in a world community of trading, we need to be sensitive to image, the results of our behaviour, and how we come across, but there is only a fine line between that and being controlled by those other opinions. Actually, we would be a lot less concerned about what people think of us if only we realised how little they do. And even when they do feel strongly about something we’ve said or done, maybe we need to give them the time and opportunity to get over their offendedness by us ignoring it. When did you last hear someone stand up and say that if people are offended, that is their problem? No, there are those in our world who use being offended as a first choice weapon, a lever to control. Or worse still we say someone else would have been offended, in our humble opinion, without knowing if they actually were or giving them the opportunity to say so for themselves. So much for free speech – and personal responsibility! (It happened to me recently, and when I checked it out the person said, “You were joking Andrew! I’ve got much more important things to be concerned about than silly things like that!”)
Please be reassured, I am not advocating deliberately hurting people – though the medical professions do it all the time in their attempt to relieve pain (another blog title there, I think?) – but I am advocating identifying what you are responsible for – and what you’re not. No need to be the Jolly Miller on the River Dee who “cared for nobody, no not I” but rather to have clear personal boundaries. And me…?
Well, yes, you’re right. I spent a lot of time in the first half of my life bowing to bullies as they tried and often succeeded to control me, whether that was in the playground as a child or in other contexts as an adult where bullying is much more subtle – and can even be wrapped up in the excusable guise of ‘caring for me’. All too often the I’m-only-saying-this-because-I-love-you, or the this-is-for-your-own-good line is a way of handling our own frustration, disappointment, anger, embarrassment, hurt or fear, as well as sometimes being an unconscious attempt to control. And yes, it has taken me a while to realise that whilst I am of course responsible for what I do and say, you are absolutely responsible for what you do with what I do and say.
So who do you care too much for? Who is being actively damaged because you don’t know when to stop caring? It reminds me of a comment from one of my children when I was going on about something that I had allowed myself to be offended by:
Son: Dad, do you have 20p?
Me: Yes, of course I do.
Son: Phone somebody who cares.
He had it right.