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What Does It Mean To Care?

The word care has become a very ambiguous word. When someone says: “I will
take care of him!” it is more likely an announcement of an impending attack than
of tender compassion. And besides this ambiguity, the word care is most often
used in a negative way. “Do you want coffee or tea?” “I don’t care.”

Real care is not ambiguous. Real care excludes indifference and is the opposite
of apathy. The word “care” finds its roots in the Gothic “kara” which means
lament. The basic meaning of care is to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out
with. l am very much struck by this background of the word care because we
tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the
powerful toward the powerless, of the have’s toward the have-not’s. And, in fact
we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain
before doing something about it.

Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most
to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions,
or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a
gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of
despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement,
who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the
reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.

Our tendency is to run away from the painful realities or to try to change them
as soon as possible. But cure without care makes us into rulers, controllers,
manipulators, and prevents a real community from taking shape. Cure without
care makes us preoccupied with quick changes, impatient and unwilling to share
each other’s burden. And so cure can often become offending instead of

It is therefore not so strange that cure is not seldom refused by people in need.
Not only have individuals refused help when they did not sense real care, but
also oppressed minorities have resisted support, and suffering nations have
declined medicine and food when they realized that it was better to suffer than
to lose self-respect by accepting a gift out of a non-caring hand.
– Henri Nouwen