Last week, I wrote a post about caring. It was about the tracking of our interests in news stories and how that data reflects what we support or care about. My point was that the simple and seemly insignificant act of caring about a social issue can actually help create tangible change. If you’d like to read that post you can find it here.
I realize now that I wrote these posts out of order. Though this post will be Part II on caring, it really should have been Part I. I should have started by talking about caring in a more personal way. Because broadly caring for others is core to serving, but more importantly it is core to being fulfilled and happy.
Here are the two things I should have pointed out last week:
Caring will teach you how to identify your feelings.
What are you feeling right now? Can you tell? If you’re like most of us, it is often hard to pinpoint exactly what we feel. Happy? Sad? Bored? I get pretty irritable when I’m hungry so I have to watch that closely. Knowing what we feel is the first step to managing our requests. We have to know what we feel if we hope to accurately express what we need. Sometimes what we need is food, but it can also be something more important like respect. We have to express what we need if we hope to have others honor that. And we have to know who will and won’t honor our needs if we want to have the right support team in our lives.
Caring about strangers in a news story helps you get familiar with your feelings. It helps remind you what sad feels like for you. It helps you pinpoint how anger builds for you. Are you familiar with your pang of hopelessness? What about your version of fear? Are you familiar with how you experience these things in your mind, in your body and in your heart? You can’t think through the answers to these questions. You have to feel them yourself. Caring about strangers gives you a chance to experience these feelings in a more controlled fashion. If it’s too much at first, turn the TV off or switch to another webpage. Try again later. But remember how it made you feel.
Caring for strangers is a low risk way to increase your tolerance for being vulnerable.
If you want to have strong, amazing and dynamic relationships you will need to get comfortable with vulnerability. Period. This is not negotiable no matter how much you may like feeling safe and being in control. Do you like the idea of having an awesome marriage, “to the grave” friendships or crazy-loving family bonds? If so, you will HAVE to get comfortable with the idea of caring deeply for people that can and will hurt you. You will have to get comfortable with letting the actions and choices of others have an impact on your emotional wellbeing. It isn’t easy. But it is through vulnerability that love and trust grow.
The good news is you can actually build up your tolerance to vulnerability every time you chose to care about anything or anyone you can’t control. Try this the next time you watch the news or read an article about human struggle. Don’t just take in the information analytically, pause and try to feel yourself caring for the individuals. Imagine if it was you or someone you love. Let their faces stay in your mind. Let them in fully knowing that you can’t fix things and you probably can’t help them. Let that vulnerability in. Then say a prayer for them and move on. Every time you do this, you will get more comfortable with accepting vulnerability. This will serve you when being vulnerable has higher more personal stakes. And it will make you more at ease when you need to choose between opening up or playing it safe.
Ok, this is my second case for caring and I hope it’s a strong one. I sincerely believe that caring broadly will serve you more than you might imagine. Trust me, it’s not a waste of your time.