Monday, March 05, 2007

Active and Passive “Caring”

It is not uncommon to hear people say, “I really care about…”

Sounds good doesn't it. But what does that really mean? More specifically, are they merely telling you how they feel about what ever or whoever it is or is their felt compassion translating into helpful behavior?

The home Webpage of goodcharacter.com contains a five-item questionnaire (to help you see see if you are a caring and compassionate person) and a Teaching Guide for caring/compassion, and includes a beautiful statement: "Remember, caring is not just a way of feeling, it's a way of behaving!"

In my recently published pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom… You Gotta Love ’Em, I tell the story of the time my mom taught me an important lesson regarding caring:

Caring

When I was sixteen years old, I was friendly with an elderly couple who lived down the road. I would visit them on occasion and always enjoyed their company. Then, out of the blue, Mr. Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack. Mrs. Johnson was left alone in the house that they had shared for many years.
One afternoon I said to my mother, “I find myself thinking about Mrs. Johnson. It’s got to be tough for her now that Mr. Johnson’s gone. With her arthritis and other ailments, it must be really hard for her living by herself.”
“It sounds like you truly care about her,” Mom replied.
“Yeah, I really do.”
She was silent for a few moments.
“What are you thinking, Mom?”
“Maybe you could go down to her house tomorrow morning and mow her lawn for her.”
“Good idea. I’ll ask Dad if I can use the mower.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll let you. That would be good, Bill. And it would be very different.”
“Yeah, it would. I bet her grass is really overgrown.”
“I’m sure it is. But that’s not what I meant.”
“Okay…what did you mean, Mom?”
“Bill, you’re a very caring individual,” she said. “But it’s important to remember:

Passive caring benefits you;
active caring benefits the other person.

Question: How does your caring translate into active caring?

Bill

6 comments:

Misa Ramirez said...

I love that story, Bill. I think it's easy to become jaded, however, if your sense of doing for others is taken advantage of. What's that saying? Once bitten, twice shy or something like that. I feel as if I'm an actively caring person, but there have been many people (who of course must remain unnamed!) that have definitely taken advantage of that part of my nature and have subsequently made me question other people's nature. Not good, I know, and conflicting, because I haven't changed in my core, but I'm wary now. Anyway, excellent story. I have to get your book!

Maconole said...

I think a lot of us actively care without even realizing it. Whether it's helping a neighbor cut down a tree, donating time or money to a charity or at church, or staying up all night with a sick child - these are all ways we actively care. But often times we do them so often or routinely that we may not realize we are doing it at the time. It's just the way we are in our daily lives. I guess we just notice it more when we do something more overtly like helping victims of a storm or cooking food for someone who just lost a loved one.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Misa,

Thanks for your compliments and insights. I tend to be a helpful, trusting and helpful person as well – it’s a way of life. The downside, as you illustrated, is that we get used and unappreciated at times; the upside is that it’s a beautiful way to make the journey… at least that’s how I look at it. There’s an old cliche I love – “Ninety percent of the fist are caught by ten percent of the fishermen.” Maybe we are appreciated by 90% of those we help, but if we only hear those 10% who use us or don’t appreciate us it doesn’t mean we necessarily should change our way of life.

I hope you enjoy my book – I would appreciate it if you let me know what you think of it after you read it.

Thanks again,

Bill

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hey there Maconole.

You make an excellent point… many of us are so exceptionally helpful, as a way of life, we don’t think about it until it’s called to our attention. And it’s the little things that we do as well… just opening a door for someone or reminding someone that they left their sunglasses on the roof of their car, etc. And if you life your life as a helpful person you also may reap what you sow.

Thanks again… always enjoy hearing from you,

Bill

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

I have to say that sometimes "actively caring" requires effort and sacrifice that can be really challenging. I have always been a passive activist against cruelty to animals. I say passively because I never went out of my way to make sure that ALL the products I used were not tested on animals. Even thought I KNEW how horrific and unnecessary the tests were. I would be happy if I happened to stumble upon a company that didn't test but never looked beneath the surface at all the companies I use on a day to day basis. Finally I decided to look at each and every product individually and emailed companies and decided that if I am not 100% certain that they do not test on animals (the whole product, the ingredient, or contract it out to companies who do) that I will NOT buy the product. Sounds easy? It is not at all.... some of my favoirte product lines don't test, except for "new ingredients" so I won't buy it anymore. I have given up alot of products that I would normally reach for without hesitating. I have given up all things made by Proctor & Gamble- a huge company that makes over 250 household products because they cannot even give me ONE example of ONE prodcut that is not tested on animals. I guess being ignorant is alot easier in some respects as you can pretend things aren't happening. People often don't like things but aren't overly motivated to do the work to make things better.... (Due to the recent mass dog slaughter in China- I would like to boycott all things "made in China" but I am too weak to make that sacrifice-as really, almost everything is made in China. I wish I had more willpower)... I guess some "active caring" is better than none!

~A

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello again MHT,

I indeed appreciate your vivid example how much effort and sacrifice it at times can entail to be actively caring. Yes, ignorance can make active caring easier, but good old denial and selfishness also play their roles as well. As I was reading your Comment, I thought of how much we in the United States really care about global warming (it appropriately has been considered an "inconvenient truth")? I suppose we all have your reasons to continue to drive gas-guzzling SUVs and muscle cars, and elected officials know that the next election is their number one priority. So, one might fittingly ask: just how actively caring can we expect the average human being to be? (That is unless we consider telling our neighbors what they need to do to be actively caring.)

Thanks again for your eye-opening thoughts,

Bill