noun 1. The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
verb 1. Feel concern or interest; attach importance to something
Oxford English Dictionary
That’s what the Oxford English Dictionary defines as care. The Old English is ‘caru’ or ‘cearu’ which means ‘sorrow, anxiety, grief’. In general use, care tends to mean caution than comfort. In creating this map, I’ve asked many people what care means to them personally, and what care means in St Helens. People offering formal care (such as YMCA, TearDrops, CGL) highlighted the importance of supporting personal independence, practically as well as emotionally, as an aspect of care. Informal caring spaces (like Momo’s, the Library, Phoenix) emphasised the significance of offering kindness, opportunities to be social and different ways of being together.
Here are 5 definitions from different people, reflecting some of the different understandings of care:
- Caring for those in the town who may not want to ask for help
- Realising we are not in the same situation
- Sharing toys
- Means Hard work
- Seeing the need
We are not obligated to care if our resources are exhausted. Care includes care for oneself – which should not necessarily be regarded to mean to be in conflict with care for others.
Why do we help others, when there is no direct benefit to us? What’s in it for the individual to sacrifice their time and energy to support someone or something else? Some biologists think it’s in our selfish gene nature to be helpful to other members of our group, who will in turn help us. This is a calculated action with the hopes of living longer to create more offspring, and therefore perpetuating the self. Other scholars disagree with this deterministic view of life and say ‘care’ is essential to our sense of self. Around the 1950s, some people imagined a world viewed through care. Joan Tronto, a big thinker around what is called ‘Care Ethics’ understands care as “a species of activity that includes everything we do to maintain, contain, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, and our environment”.
I like Joan’s idea that when we are caring and care-ful, we can make the right decisions because we are always thinking about living as well as possible. We care for others because we live with others, and we care about that they think of us, because they inform how we think of ourselves. We are motivated to care for those who are dependent and vulnerable, and it is inspired by both memories of being cared for, and the feeling that you are the best version of yourself when you care. We care because we’re here, on this planet for a limited time and want to make the best use of this time.
Care is complex because humans are complex. What you need depends on your circumstances, age, gender, preferences, interests, hobbies and personality amongst many other elements of yourself. So we need to think of care in various stages and forms. The informal spaces of care respond to our desires for a safe space to be yourself. Where you can have fun, to enjoy time with your friends and family. For young people this can be The Chinese Buffet. For some adults it’s the informal spaces such as benches on the square and for some more senior adults it’s the U3A meetings at the Friends Meeting House.
How to Care?
Places providing formal care are delivering specific services for people. Organisations such as CGL, Hope House, and Buzz Hub are frontline workers delivering support we as a society feel is important and needed. The degree, scope and level of care provided varies, but there is a general consensus that there has been a marked decline in resources and services over the past decade due to austerity.
Originally conceived to think about private and intimate spheres of life, Care Ethics has branched out as a political theory and social movement aimed at broader understanding of, and public support for, care giving and care receiving activities in their breadth and variety. As a political theory, Care Ethics examines questions of social justice, including the distribution of social benefits, legislation, governance, and claims of entitlement.
While this map points to spaces of care, it also marks the places that are gone, and the increased need for such spaces in an indication of the lack of local and governmental support for those made most vulnerable in society. We do not have to accept the way things are, or try to make do with the little that we have. We can use care and kindness to shape society to how we think it should be, so more weight is distributed from those who should care to everyone. We should highlight and celebrate the caring spaces we have, without forgetting to question why we need so many of them.