Care, according to Dictionary.com, can mean: verb (used without object) to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard. to be concerned or have a special preference (usually used in negative constructions): I don’t care if I do. to make provision or look out (usually followed by for ): Will you care for the children while I am away? to have an inclination, liking, fondness, or affection Why is it so difficult when someone says to us, “I don’t care about you!” or we get the sense that someone just doesn’t care about something. I personally struggle when I see people throw litter on the ground, dispose of their pets as if they are trash, or behave in a generally abusive manner toward another person. I can’t help but think to myself, “Don’t they CARE?!”
But caring is a value and not everyone is motivated to care in the same way. In my book, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, secret #3 is, “Your Values Speak More Loudly Than You Do.” This is because when we observe others, or hear what they say, we are processing it through whatever it is that matters most to us. We believe in “right” or “wrong” – certain behaviors and decisions are right, as long as they are within my value set; certain ones are wrong if they are not.
Now, we can argue that littering, and abusing people and animals, is fundamentally wrong, and I am going to agree wholeheartedly with that. The truth is, though, that depending on what we care about, what motivates us, these behaviors may seem less wrong than something else someone could do.
Some research shows there are six core values that we all share, but we share them in a different order of importance. A high Social value, for example, means that I am focused on others and believe that it is my duty and my responsibility to do whatever I can to help another person. A high Utilitarian value means I mostly care about efficiency and ROI (return on investment) in everything I do. A high Traditional value means I am aligned with a certain religion and care very much about living my life in accordance with the values espoused by that religion. A high Individualistic value means I care a lot about reputation and my good name. A high Theoretical value means I am motivated by a love of learning and want to soak up knowledge wherever possible. Lastly, a high Aesthetic value means I have a love of beauty and beautiful things.
It’s not too hard to see how conflicts could arise. If I am very highly Social and care about others and want to take care of others, I might get into conflict with someone who is highly Individualistic and mostly cares about their reputation and their name. I believe we should make all of our decisions in the interest of giving and helping others. That person may believe that as long as their reputation is solid and they will benefit from being associated with the “giving,” then it’s okay, but otherwise they’ll reject my approach.
Defining “care” means defining first what we care about, and we don’t all care about the same things. This is why laws evolve – thankfully it is against the law everywhere to abuse children, and in most places it is against the law to abuse animals, too. There are fines for throwing litter out of your car in most places, as well. But these laws evolve because not everyone fundamentally believes these things are “wrong.”
In my work in humane rescue we see the tragedy of puppy mills, for example. Some of the worst are located in Amish country, where the large barns hide the horrible treatment of these innocent animals. But the Amish believe, from a Traditional value perspective, they are in dominion over animals and that God has ordained this. They do not believe anything is “wrong” with how they treat the animals who breed for them.
This is how values play out in the real world all of the time. If I ask you “to care” and to show me care, I have a certain definition of what they would look like. If I tell my husband, “you don’t care about me enough – show me your care,” he might think making a nice dinner for me shows that. I might be waiting for him to write me love notes and leave them around the house.
We filter “care” through our own set of what we believe to be right and wrong, and therein lies the difficulty of coming to common ground on what really matters.
This week, observe what you care about and what you believe others should care about. Watch what triggers you, and try to understand where the other person could be coming from. Do they act in an uncaring way because their value set is different? Observe and consider. You might learn something interesting about how to define “care”.