Caring Is Hard
Niagara Voices column, St Catharines Standard
Caring is hard.
Or, to put it another way, not caring is easier.
Giving a damn involves commitment, sacrifice, conscious action, time, effort. And vulnerability.
Caring lives deep within us, in our darkest, safest parts. We let it out and expose it, making it vulnerable. It in turn makes us vulnerable: to care is to be weak, and to be weakened. In our culture, the goal is to be ‘without a care in the world.’ Wouldn’t that actually make you a sociopath?
Think of the things you care about, and how they both bolster and undermine you. My daughter is my greatest source of, well, everything: joy (the smell of her neck when she’s sun-drenched), frustration, pride, shame (when she flings herself on the Post Office floor in a screaming heap), and terror—my heart is no match for my imagination’s ability to conjure up worst-case scenarios. And she’s only two years old.
I care about the environment, and about government, and about my husband. The latter is probably the easiest one, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to be married if I cared a little bit less. Caring about the health of our planet is a tough one. I don’t know where the line is drawn between ‘concerned’ and ‘crazy.’ While selling coffee at our church’s recent Cherry Festival, I refused to provide a garbage can, and instead made everyone hand me their empty creamer containers so I could recycle them. Okay, I am laughing out loud at myself now, but at the time it seemed essential. (I did manage to resist lecturing parents on the perils and toxicity of pop.) So am I a nut job, or concerned?
Yes, to not care is easier, or at least less complicated. Reading the newspaper, for example, goes much more quickly. Darfur? Somalia? Whatever: Africa’s screwed and that’s that. Another smog alert? Well, I’ll just have to drive my car to the store. And a heat alert too? Good thing I have air conditioning!
If you didn’t care, for example, you wouldn’t have to question how a person—two people—justify starving their dogs. You wouldn't have to imagine the days and nights in that household. But if you were truly compassionate, the extreme form of caring, you would find it in you to care not only for those poor animals, but also for the poor people who did them wrong. What drove them to it? How can they be helped? Compassionate I am not. And caring they are not: Why keep pets if you can’t afford to feed them? And why teach your six children this type of neglect is acceptable? To show how compassionate I am not, my first thought on seeing this pair is that they sure don’t starve themselves.
I wish I didn’t give a rat’s bum about downtown St Catharines. Then the closing of White on White and what it represents wouldn’t be so sad. And why should St Paul Street matter to me anyway? I live in Niagara-on-the-Lake and there’s plenty to care about around here. For example, how can our local council yammer on about our lack of road safety, but not explore the idea of filling and paving the ditches that are our only option when we need to veer around drunken tourists—on bicycles no less?
To pulverise Alexander Pope’s wisdom, to care is human; to take it one step further, divine. I don’t mean to apply that to my creamer grabbing, or even to my pedantic correction of apostrophe use. There: I wish I didn’t care so much about language; but if I cared less, I wouldn’t get such soaring joy from it. But acting on one’s concerns is always a challenge.
Being human is hard. Everything is hard. But not caring could be harder. Imagine the horrific hollowness of being able to truly say, ‘I don’t care.’
Caring is what drove me to try to become a Niagara Voices columnist. And, funnily enough, that begat more caring. Being a member of that crew brought me more deeply into this paper, its contents and creators, and the region it represents. And its readers. So there: I care about you. That wasn’t so hard, was it?