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Who cares about caring?

ONE OF THE MORE long-lived current buzzwords is "caring." Its popularity can be tested by the many uses and meanings. We send CARE packages to the needy overseas. Pres. John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps was seen as a world-caring organization. Children were enthralled with Care Bears. We find a number of medical people calling themselves health care professionals, with general practitioners referred to as primary care physicians. Nurses see their role as a caring vs. a curing one, the exception being nurse practitioners.

Nursing homes and hostels boast of their caring personnel. At one time, British Airways advertised, "We'll take good care of you." US. post offices have a large sign that reads, "WE CARE," each letter spelling out a service.

Every politician has caring as a plank in his or her platform. They promise to care for the homeless, unemployed, elderly, poverty-stricken, hungry, the environment, and small businessmen. In 1988, George Bush campaigned for a kinder and gentler society--in short, a caring society--and people responded to it by electing him president. Today, the non-caring person virtually is a social pariah. It seems nearly everyone wants care on demand.

The late French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, pointed out that, fundamentally, caring is making oneself available to others, putting oneself at their disposal without somehow invading their privacy. The great German thinker, Immanuel Kant, maintained that caring is a disinterested duty which, when done for the sake of reward, loses its ethical nature.

Yet, there are questions about caring that ought to be raised lest we be carried away by high-minded altruism. While not all people are caring individuals, just about everyone wants to be cared about and, when need be, cared for.

First, it is important to distinguish between institutional care-giving and that of private citizens. The former is necessarily more impersonal in its functions. AIDS activists, for example, keep excoriating the government for not allocating more funds for medical research, when, in fact, the government is doing just about all it can, given the complex nature of the disease and other priorities it faces. Approximately $3,000,000,000 went to AIDS research in 1991, about what the government spent for cancer, a disease that affects 10 times as many people. Pressure groups often want drugs approved that have not been tested fully yet by the Food and Drug Administration. They have forgotten the wisdom of not allowing the tranquilizer thalidomide on the American market when it was so popular in Europe decades ago, thus avoiding the birth defects that subsequently ensued.

Companies that refuse to allow family leave or decline to set up nurseries or day care for children of its employees also are accused of not caring. Yet, businesses today have such a tough time just making it that it's difficult to blame them for not opening up a Pandora's box to disgruntled parents. In our litigious climate, they are afraid of taking on another responsibility. If they do make such arrangements, it is more a case of enlightened self-interest than true caring. After all, how can a business entity really care?

The priority of caring should be reexamined. Recently, a man underwent a liver transplant, the organ being taken from a baboon. Immediate cries of protest went up from animal rights groups. We also see pet owners fitting their pets with hearing aids, false teeth, and other prosthetic devices. Would these same people spend such money for humans who need them?

Not long ago, caretakers were gardeners or fixer-uppers for large estates. Today, the term is applied to care providers, and much of the workforce increasingly is shifting in this direction. What has been the effect? For one, many women have relinquished the role of providing nurture for their offspring or making a home for the family, reassigning this all-important task to others. What kind of caring is this? The claim is that these women need to work. In some cases, this is true, but, in more than they are willing to admit, a job outside the home is escapist in intent, an acceptable way to dodge one's personal household responsibilities.

Many single women who have babies indiscriminately take alcohol and drugs during their pregnancy, leaving the resulting malformed children to be supported by the state. Is this caring? What about women who snuff out human life by insisting that abortion on demand be universally approved--is this caring?

We who ultimately pay for this are lectured that we should not be judgmental, that, under the mistaken guise of tolerance, we should not condemn or even frown on others' actions that brought them to such a sorry state. We are supposed to condone the disvalues we confront in being a caring people. It seems to me that caring ought to be a two-way street. If such people don't care about us, or about themselves, it is difficult to determine how much honest care one should give those who refuse to accept the responsibilities that come with their decisions. (Even St. Paul shows exasperation in the Scriptures, declaring, "If they will not work, neither let them eat!")

Too often, caring becomes a mask that hides our real motivation. Many do-gooders are willing to help others, but not their own. I know a man, not atypical, always ready to do chores for his neighbors, who never fixes up the things that need attention at home. Many women pursue social causes because they are more exciting, glamorous, and achieve some kind of recognition that is not forthcoming from performing mundane chores in the home.

I don't care if a professional cares about me. My concern is whether that person is competent. In a very real way, that competence is the finest evidence of real caring a person can give.
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Title Annotation:caring is not necessarily altruistic
Author:Kreyche, Gerald F.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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