The world suffers not from caring too little, but too much. Too much about the wrong things and too much about too many things.
There seems to be a constant hum of guilt that we all tend to absorb and pass on to one another. This guilt comes from living a life which doesn’t seem to “care” enough about certain things.
We use a straw and the guilt of not “caring” for the environment rears its head. We see a picture of a malnourished African boy on Facebook and the guilt of not “caring” for poor people across the globe rears its head. We see a video of an African-American man being shot by a police officer and the guilt of not “caring” enough about racism rears its head.
Constant guilt. From every angle. But is the guilt valid? Does it even make sense? A large part of the problem is we are subconsciously being expected to care a lot about everything, all the time. And that is just impossible.
Caring about one thing, yourself, is hard enough as it is. To eat right, drink enough water, exercise, spend time being mindful, be social, get enough alone time, on and on. Caring, when done properly, takes time and mental and emotional energy.
So where does that leave us? We try to care about everything and end up doing a terrible job at all of it.
We try to “care” for the boy in Africa, but really what can we actually DO about it? Well we donate $20 and that scratches the itch of guilt just enough for us to move our attention to something else to feel guilty about. We see the video of the African-American man getting shot and so we change our profile picture to say “Black Lives Matter.” Did that actually do anything? Or was the main point of doing that to scratch the itch of guilt?
As we learned from Aristotle, the good lives in the middle, the golden mean. So the opposite of caring about everything, which is caring for nothing, also doesn’t make sense. So what are we left with? Choosing carefully the things we CAN care about and caring for those things well.
What should those things be? The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to keep it local. So that means starting with yourself. If you can’t get yourself to work out for 10 minutes before you take a shower, how do you expect to end poverty or racism.
Next care for your family. That means spending time with them, staying in touch, and fostering a deep relationship with them.
Next, care for your neighbors. This one seems the most strange in today’s world where no one knows their next door neighbor. But if everyone made sure their neighbors were taken care of, lots of problems would fix themselves, including racism and poverty.
And finally, care for your friends. I think most of us tend to already do this well.
And if you are doing an amazing job of caring for yourself and your family, friends, and neighbors, you won’t have time or energy left to care about anything else.
So what do you do when you see the picture of the African boy or the picture of the shooting? Ask yourself, “Of the things I care about (which are myself, my family, and my neighbors, and my friends), what can I do to make sure these problems aren’t an issue for them?” That means making sure those you care about aren’t struggling with poverty. And that you aren’t perpetuating racism through your actions. And so forth.
As always, these things are harder said than done. Virtue always is.