I am sitting on the back patio as I write this and my ten year old son is inside occupying himself with books and computers. I’ve taken him off school today, not for myself, but as a measure of what I think he needs at the moment. We are going to travel to his grandparent’s farm and pick up some things we need that are stored there in order to erect our new shed over the weekend.
But this is not about him per se but of what it means to care.
I have always been one to care for others, one has to be as an educator. For we educators have the ability to impact lives like no other, perhaps save for parents. This, of course, requires us to listen and to hear those we care for, to attend to what they need, not what we think they need. We must recognise who they want to be, and work to guide them in that quest, mindful of the world that exists, and of the forces that are in play. And we must also have a bigger goal, one which sees us strive to recognise and act upon the similarities that exist in the diversity that is humanity. And one of those similarities is care for others.
We see care being given in a range of different ways, yet such care, unless acted upon thoughtfully and intently, can be misplaced. The concept of ‘compassion for others’, of which caring is central, is not an easy one to grasp, by either the carer or the cared for. We often see the word suffering appear when we consider compassion, and we talk of recognising such suffering and acting to alleviate it. But I don’t like to use this word, not because it isn’t meaningful to me, but because it is often misconstrued and, in some cases, trivialised. As such, our care can be misplaced, and rather than helping others to identify and work towards addressing the root cause of that suffering, to change what they can of themselves or the situation they are in, we simply deal with the symptoms. And all this does is enable others to continue and encounter the same again.
Compassion, and therefore appropriate care, is work, and work that takes courage, for what we see may be confronting both for ourselves and for the other(s). And if one is not prepared to put in that work, to lay themselves open, then the value of such an act is diminished. This I have learned.
I have always been aware that the different relationships we have require us to act in different ways. However, until now, I truly haven’t realised the subtlety nor complexity that this brings. Before now, I was surrounded by a host of people, many of them students to whom I had granted my time and energy, and so the attention I could give to others was limited. Now, away from that, I find myself squarely, and to a large extent solely, in the physical company of three other human beings, my family, all different, all with different needs.
And this requires quite something. It requires a dance of sorts, one demanded by the dynamism of the differences that they hold and the ways that these interact. In a one-to-one scenario tending to each is tenable, even if it does demand us to sit back, breathe and shift our own awareness and actions to each other. However, when we all find ourselves in the same time and place, with the different personalities in all present, the landscape changes, and we travel to a place with all sorts of other influences in play. Each person affects the other. There is not one relationship here, but a network, a gestalt, where what we see, is not what we might see in private. While we may know this as educators, we may not be aware, because of the sheer volume of happenings around us, how errant we may be when in such a place. And so, when in such a situation, as I have learned recently, I tread carefully.
What this means for me looking ahead is that when I am once again able to be in a place with students, I must consider not only the obvious impact of what I say and how I act. When in a room with twenty young people, I know I must take the time and have the humility to observe and listen to those around me closely. I know that I must be aware that any care I give could well be at the expense of another, and this imposes on me the responsibility to make choices. What is not so apparent is how the relationships between students may be affected because of this. This is what being in a close knit environment and observing those around me has highlighted.
Consequently, the act of caring takes on a dimension where some of the impact may be well hidden, and this requires a vigilance beyond the ordinary. Little cues, which we may otherwise ignore may give some insight as to the outcomes of our action. Things we see that we may otherwise have ascribed to different reasons, may in fact come from the actions we take. Perhaps, for example, when we see students distance themselves, as they sometimes do, we might consider whether it is something that we played a part in rather than something that is a result of something else. In such an environment, we need to acknowledge, that despite our best intentions, we will make mistakes and we will need to watch for these.
Finally, there are times when we will have to turn away those for whom the care is of little apparent value, or for whom that care is taking away from others in greater need. There are times when we will need to look at ourselves, and ask ourselves whether acting as we do allows us to do the best we can. We are limited, we are human, and part of being so is the fallibility that we have. So there will come times when we might need to make a choice to sit to look after ourselves, if that is the greater need.
None of this, however, obviates ourselves of the responsibility of awareness of how we act, and this is something we need to have at the forefront of our minds.