07 February 2016

We need to talk about Care.

So here we go. Tin helmet on, and underground bunker stocked for the next fortnight. Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to drop the c-bomb on you. CARE.

[it's an internet cat; copyright: whoever]
I suggest that the word "CARE" is one of those words in the English language that sits around looking cute and fluffy and meaning one thing, and then *BOOM* up it pops like Optimus Prime and transforms into some mega-killer bad-ass robot thing, and you're left wondering what the heck just happened there.

Before you go off thinking I'm uncaring, let's look at just a two meanings of this tricksy little word.

a/ CARE can mean to "nurture", to "provide services", to "look after", to "protect". That sort of thing. The "carer" is performing a function for the "caree". It's all very value neutral; in principle a robot could provide this sort of care.

b/ CARE can mean to "love" or to possess some sort of meaningful mental state towards the thing or person who is the object of such care. We recognise this and value it. If I care about you, it means that you are significant to me, in and of yourself.

Now it is entirely possible for both meanings of the word to coexist. When I care for my kids in the functional sense, I do it in significant part because I care for them in the love sense too. But, and this is a crucial thing, these are still two separate things. And in the world of marketing and public discourse, particularly around health, this quirk of language has allowed some very problematic confusions to arise.

We have companies advertising their a/CARE services as demonstrating their b/CARE characteristics. We drop the C word into professional language, such that nurses and doctors (for example) are seen as being "caring professionals". The implication is that your plumber somehow doesn't "care" (and this may or may not be the case), but that your doctor or nurse certainly does (and again this may or may not be the case).

It's probably not a direct function of this linguistic quirk, but I wonder if we're seeing in society an "outsourcing" of b/CARE to services that are designed to provide a/CARE. We as families have perhaps become so disconnected that we expect a/CARE organisations to do the b/CARING for us. We're quite happy to leave granny sitting for 6 months without a handle in her bathroom, waiting for some official organisation to come and install one, rather than getting out the cordless drill and installing it ourselves. And making granny a wee cup of tea and a biscuit and sitting down with her and telling that we actually b/CARE about her, and want to know what else we can do for her.

Maybe it's easier to rail against the Health & Social a/CARE Trust for being so un-b/CARING as to not provide a rail as part of an a/CARE package, which would at least show that they b/CARE, and that our stroppiness is sufficient for us to show that we b/CARE, rather than actually demonstrating our b/CARE by delivering some a/CARE ourselves, pro bono. [If you kept up with that, congratulations!]

So what is my point? It's this. If you b/CARE about someone, tell them. Show it. Do something for them. By all means if there are deficiencies in their a/CARE, highlight that, and try to get something done about it. But we should all consider what we, as members of society, can be doing to provide some a/CARE for those around us also. Yes, we a/CARE by paying our taxes, but we b/CARE by actually rolling our sleeves up and doing something for people. Making someone a cup of tea. Picking up that crisp packet that some twit has tossed out of their car window and putting it in a bin. Fixing a lightbulb for the elderly gentleman next door, and running the mower over his grass from time to time.

And maybe promoting the development of a society where every single minute piece of a/CARE doesn't have to be allocated to a government body, but where it can emerge as a normal natural function of a healthy society where we actually do b/CARE about each other. Maybe then we can afford a Health and Social a/CARE system that is fit for the future.


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