The Primacy of Care
I was recently at a gathering of sports figures, business folks and normal people like me. It was an interesting gathering in two ways. The first way the gathering interested me was because of the topic, namely, how to work effectively with young people. Of course, that is a perennial concern. So I was all ears to gain some tidbits that might help me do a better job in my own teaching. The second way the gathering was interesting to me was simply the unlikely collection of different kinds of people. It reinforced my conviction that some of the best learning I experience comes when I hang out with people different than I am.
The best line of the event came in an almost off-handed comment by a football coach. While he would not have been tabbed as the philosopher of the group, he had some deep insights because of his own involvement and work with young people. I listened to him, less as a football coach, and more as an experienced teacher. At one point he was describing one of his key convictions. He said something to the effect that “players don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
When he said this, I was reminded that I have heard the quotation before, but I had no idea who might have originally said it. It is not a sports’ saying. I know it can be found on the lips of patients when they comment on their doctors. It is easy to imagine multiple contexts in which the saying has a truth. But the key piece is the saying itself. Let me unpack it from a spiritual and community perspective.
The first thing that jumps out to me is the two central themes: knowledge and care. Both are important themes in the spiritual journey. It is impossible to make a spiritual journey without the assistance of some knowledge. It is clear to me that there are a variety of sources of knowledge. We have knowledge from others. This can come through books, retreats, media, etc. And there is knowledge from our own selves and our experience. Knowledge can come from nature. And for some of us, knowledge comes from God---via revelation.
Generally speaking, knowledge is good. As a rule, to know is better than to be ignorant. At my age I have a fair amount of knowledge. Some of it I would like to teach to younger people. I am confident it can be good for them, help them live a richer life and so on. As the saying goes, however, usually they don’t care what I know. That is, they don’t care until…
Until they know that I care. And care is the second theme of the saying. I could contend that care is primary. It is more important than knowledge. Both are significant, but if you only can have one, choose care. In a way, care contains a form of knowledge. If someone cares about me, then I know that I matter. I know they have the capacity to put themselves aside and put me front and center. When someone cares about me, then it is about me and not about them. That is a lovely, humbling place to be.
In the spiritual journey, I am convinced that care is primary. In Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions we might even say the spiritual journey is a journey into care---or, maybe, a journey rooted in care. This seems deeply true to me because I know that care is a form of love. That is why care is primary---care is love lived out.
At its best, care is non-discriminatory. Care does not discriminate between those who can afford something and those who have no resources. Care is not prejudicial. As a form of love, care does not pre-judge who deserves care. Care is universal. Care is for anyone in my house. Care is for anyone in my community. And care is for anyone in my universe.
I automatically wince when I hear the phrase, “I couldn’t care less.” I understand it is often used in jest. I wince when I think historically how true this phrase often was when it came to particular groups of people. Sadly, it is not just a historical problem. I think it can still be found in our world today.
Care is primary. None of us would have made it as human beings if it were not for the care we received. How many newborns could live more than a few hours or days without care? And it does not stop there. I suspect many of us live in the illusion that we don’t need (and maybe think we don’t want) any care now. We see ourselves as autonomous and independent.
Care is primary. I like to think about care a soul food. Care nourishes our soul and protects us from sickness and disease. Care is primary because it is a profound expression of belonging and a visible form of community. Care is an affirmation of my dignity and worth. If someone cares for me, I matter enough to count. I am worth the care given to me.
Care is a gift and a calling. It is a gift when it comes my way. And it is a calling on my heart to give care to others.