Big Caring

 Caring can be shallow or deep, short or longterm, successful or failed.  It can be individual or collective or even built into social systems.  There are ways to enhance and abuse it.  In this essay I explore what it would mean to expand our sense of caring towards greater capacity, wholeness and benefit.

Today I found myself reflecting on empathy, caring, compassion and love – through the wise democracy lens.  Surely, these things are all aspects of what a wise democracy would be and how we might get there.

But there’s a lot going on with each of these words.  I explored this regarding love in my post “Love & the Wise Democracy Pattern Language”

Empathy and compassion tend to involve our feelings about other people or other beings (e.g., animals) and, perhaps in a stretch, other living systems (e.g., forests or cities).  But if we don’t think something is alive, aware and able to suffer, we don’t tend to have empathy or compassion for it.

Caring, in contrast, seems to include empathy, compassion, love and a whole lot more.  We can care for or about people, beings, living systems – AND objects, topics, issues, and anything else, actually.

Thinking about how I once expanded the idea of empathy to Big Empathy, I wondered what it would be like to expand the idea of caring into Big Caring.  So I’m sharing my reflections here. 

You may have other thoughts about this.  If so, please share them as a comment below.  I’m very interested in your thoughts.


BIG CARING would include:

Inclusive Caring – expanding our circle of care to embrace more people, groups, beings, objects, entities, systems, activities, qualities, dynamics… – especially more living beings and communities about whom we’ve not particularly cared before.

Collective Caring – whole groups, communities and populations caring.  This would include not just the fact of their caring, but enabling them to care, for example, with stories and crowdfunding sites.

Systemic Caring – this is caring that is embedded into social systems, culture, infrastructure, etc.  For example, do our economic, political and educational systems create conditions that help people care and act on that care?  Do these systems act like they care by directly producing the results of caring – such as well-being, meaning, belonging, and so on?  Does it feels like the systems themselves care for the beings who live within them?

Perceptive Caring – this involves the capacity to experience, express and act on caring through things that separate us from harms and sufferers.  Are we able to see THROUGH time and distance, through systemic complexity and our own ignorance, through marginalization and differences (in race, culture, class, beliefs, species, etc.) between ourselves and those who suffer harms, and so on? Can we extend our caring through those obstacles to be both impacted and effective – as well as to be mindful of the contexts and potential side effects of our caring?  A bit of this is addressed well in Ram Dass and Paul Gorman’s book HOW CAN I HELP?

Liberated Caring – our life energy can close down or become stuck or distorted due to trauma or to our efforts at caring having failed, backfired, been suppressed or shamed, become overwhelming, etc.  Liberated Caring can come from therapy or from activities like Joanna Macy’s Despair and Empowerment workshops.  

Restorative Caring – Caring that heals, regenerates, and/or restores – that moves beyond consolation, support or easing of symptoms. Restorative Justice and Regenerativity are examples of this.

Transformative Caring – caring which serves to move the cared-for person, system or situation into a new and better pattern of life. This is the difference, for example, between charities that develop dependency and charities that provide resources for self-organized resilience. An even better example might be caring that transforms our extractive economics into economics based on gifting, sharing, and respectful reciprocity.

Appropriate Caring – This is caring which well satisfies the needs or desires of the person or situation being cared for. Most of us have experienced efforts to care – by others or ourselves – that missed the mark.

Natural Caring – Caring which arises readily and spontaneously, as we feel for beloved people, places and possessions.  But Natural Caring can be suppressed, distorted, or too narrow and often needs to be augmented by Inclusive Caring and Perceptive Caring (above).

Strategic Caring – Caring whose benefits serve another or larger purpose or design, often contrasted with Natural Caring.  Strategic Caring can be part of other positive forms of caring (such as describing how climate change will impact children and other things people care about) or used to manipulate and distort caring for negative or selfish purposes (such as telling parents that racial justice classes will make their kids feel guilty instead of more caring).

Empowered Caring – Here we find the capacity to effectively care getting released, developed, exercised, supported and resourced. We see this in activist support groups, training in Nonviolent Communication, and even “matching grants” in fundraising.

Fruitful Caring – Caring that has been effective on many levels – deep, nuanced, appropriate, successful, etc.  Any caring feeling or action has many dimensions to it that can ennoble, enhance, undermine or distort either the motivation or the outcome.  The idea of Fruitful Caring highlights that a level of mindful attention can help make caring more clean and effective.  This, too, is addressed in the How Can I Help? book noted above.

Persistent Caring – caring that continues despite difficulties or opposition.  Clickable caring goes only so far and an awful lot of invitations to care actually behave more like fads.  Being able to care over time is its own unique feature of Big Caring.

Self-Caring – This is what it sounds like.  There are different levels at which this can be motivated and done – as in, which needs are addressed and how deeply.  I see it both intrinsically valuable as well as vital for Persistent, Perceptive and other forms of caring that stretch and challenge us, to ameliorate stress and overwhelm.

Many of these dimensions and forms of caring overlap or influence each other.  The more they are present in any given situation, act or policy, the more I believe Big Caring is present.

Is this idea useful?  Interesting?  Misguided? Incomplete?  What’s missing or off base?  How would you do it differently?

Let me know.


PS:  I’m toying with the idea of making Big Caring a new wise democracy pattern that could complement or even subsume a number of other patterns in a third version of WDPL, for example:
*  Big Empathy
*  All Concerns Addressed
*  Caring into Quality
*  Equity
*  Fair Sharing of Costs and Benefits
*  Grounding in Fundamental Needs
*  Restorative Justice
*  Safety First, then Challenge
*  Whole Healing
*  Working with Feelings
All these seem intimately related to Big Caring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.