Saturday, December 5, 2009

Passion with a Loose Grip

The other day, while talking with Mark K and my dad, Lee (I think I could write a million blogs based on discussions with these two individually, but together they're an inspirational smorgasbord), Mark said something like, "Well, I don't really care what you think!"

At that point, in a rare moment of agreement, Lee and I looked at each other knowingly both saying, "Wow, he's really concerned about what I/you think!"

One thing I've noticed is that people who really don't care about what other people think never actually say, "I don't care what you think!" The phrase is a bit of an oxymoron; if you didn't really care, why would you say it? (Now, I know that some of you who have said it are thinking, "Well, I said it because...", but just go with me on this.)

What is Caring?
For me, in an practical or operational sense, when we talk about caring, we usually mean that we've attached some portion of our happiness to the object of our caring. Operationally, we make the opposite of caring apathy and we often see not caring as bad. How can you not care about thus-and-such!

In some ways, we intimately associate caring with wanting. When we want something, we care about it. When we don't want something, we don't care about it. The experiences are often inseparable. We fire up our caring to go after what we want. When we give up, we decide that we don't care any more.

Why Care?
We care because it works. Attaching our happiness to the outcome of what we're doing is highly motivational. We set our sites on a new goal (graduating from college, getting a great job, being promoted, helping our special child, losing weight), and we start "caring" about it. Our care gets up and running. In most instances, the more we care, the harder we try.

Caring really works... until it doesn't.

And then it snaps back like a giant rubber band stretched nearly to the point of breaking and then released. Our caring flips from inspiring to depressing. The more we cared (the more we attached our happiness to the outcome), the bigger the bang.

But there's more.

Long before our caring boomerangs back at us, it starts coloring our vision. It begins to influence our decisions. Our integrity (consistency between what we say we believe and what we actually do) ebbs away. In some cases, caring (caring about causes or helping others) makes us self-righteous and indignant. In others it justifies actions that we would normally consider questionable. Our caring leads us to construct dichotomies (either/or situations).

Caring is a double-edged sword that can either empower and undermine us and our efforts: usually both.

What's the Alternative?
Whether or not we would articulate it, I think most of us have the belief that there's no alternative to the caring dilemma. We think, "If I didn't care about something, I'd never do anything about it!"

What if that weren't true?

Consider a small child playing with a stack of blocks: no goal in mind, no concept of metrics or quality, just playing with the blocks because he's curious, he's interested, he wants to. As children, we seem quite capable of pursuing any number of activities simply because we enjoy them. However, we're taught early on that we have to "care" about what we're doing. We have to do a good job cleaning our rooms. If we don't do well in school... If we don't take thus-and-such seriously...

What if you could fully invest yourself into an activity without caring about the outcome? Is it hard to imagine. Can you be passionate and not care at the same time?

Educated by the Left
A few years ago, I had fairly severe carpal tunnel and tendonitis in my right hand, wrist and elbow; so I decided to start doing everything left handed.

Writing and mousing with my left hand was a completely different experience than with my right. Because I wasn't experienced or facile with my left hand, I paid much more attention to the actual process of writing: how I held the pen, whether I wanted to move my fingers or wrist, my posture and position. I started enjoying the process of writing, not the creative process, but the physicality of putting pen to paper. It felt like fluidly skiing down a challenging mountain. It was fun.

Whereas writing with my right hand had become completely utilitarian (a way to get from point a to point b), writing with my left was an experience unto itself.

One day, I took two pens and wrote simultaneously with both hands letting my right hand mimic my left. As I did so, my right hand experience changed. I gripped the pen less tightly. I slowed down a bit. I relaxed my elbow and my shoulder. I let my right hand "enjoy" writing.

And guess what? I didn't experience any pain!

Passion with a Loose Grip
I think that many of us live our lives like my right hand; we let where we're going dominate how we get there because we care about getting there. The result is emotional tendinitis and carpal tunnel. We believe that, if we didn't care (focus or even cling to the outcome), we wouldn't do what we needed to do. Somehow we wouldn't take care of ourselves and others.

At the same time, caring cripples us.

Perhaps it's time to change that. Are the aspects of your life where you care so much about the destination that you've lost your passion and love for the process of getting there? What are they? If you could regain that passion and love for the "what" of what you're doing, would you? What if doing so meant, not caring?


  1. "Caring" It seems means different things to different people, just like a lot of other sentiments. Communication is a skill, with quite little guarantee as to how the receptors, including ourselves, interpret.

    In the introduction, the motivation to convey something, I'm guessing was easily misunderstood. I'm guessing the word 'care, or not caring' is not particularly clear or accurate, and perhaps unwittingly provocative.

    "What you think, is really none of my business" Isn't that more accurate? having nothing to do with caring or not caring, but more about respecting each other? Speaking more towards our inaliable right to choose whatever any of us think?

    I don't buy the idea that 'caring cripples us'
    Actual caring I believe is about valuing, together with respecting one anothers rights and celebrating our freedom to choose. BW (valuing the stimulation, and loving you all)

  2. Hey BW, Thanks for you comments. I love thoughtfulness and contributions. You're right about the word caring meaning lots of things to lots of people.

    People might say, I don't really care what we have for dinner, let's eat whatever you want.

    Or someone might say, I don't care for sushi, I'd rather have steak.

    Or, someone else might belligerently say, "I don't care what you think!"

    Or someone might lovingly say, "I really care about you."

    In the case of this blog, I was really focused on the type of "caring" where we start hanging on to the outcome and making our happiness dependent upon it. I'm totally open to whatever word would be best used there.

    I do believe that this type of caring (or whatever word would be best used) can be crippling.

    In that case, what do you think? Also, what would a good word be?

    Thank you! Tef

  3. I agree about that kind of 'caring' can be crippling.

    Perhaps its about worrying, or not trusting.....pretending to or making it up that one has to have outcome, in order to motivate oneself, or be O.K. For me it really is misleading to refer to this as having anything to do with actual caring. Actual caring 2me is an activity of celebrating presently, loving and accepting the trip, adventure, not having to arrive particularly, or in anyway purturbed about it.

  4. Ahhh... BW I agree with you in that the way I define caring in this article is not how I would prefer it to be defined. I prefer to think of caring in terms of interest and curiosity and so on.

    However, in my experience, it seems that many people use the "c" word to mean, hanging on the outcome.

  5. It seems to be so, yes.

    For that reason I suggested increased discernment or elaboration when utilizing the term care or not caring, so as to better avoid the static or confusion it might engender. Unless of course it is the intention to stimulate (lovingly, smilingly,) with it.

    I'm reminded of a linguistic anthropologist, now deceased, who lectured with fascinating magnetism, on the numerous dynamics of our choice of words, and how we've learned to interpret. bw


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