There’s a part of my head that is utterly certain that it’s completely futile to try to teach someone how to care. After all, it’s essentially a binary thing. You either care about something or you don’t.
But obviously, that papers over tremendous nuance. There are better and worse ways to care. Care comes in two basic directions:
- Negative: I’d better not get angry like that again.
- Positive: I should cultivate patience, because it helps me keep my anger in check.
Care comes from two essential sources:
- Internal: I want to lose fifty pounds because I want to live a long and healthy life.
- External: I need to lose fifty pounds because my wife doesn’t find me attractive.
Obviously, we can stack sources and directions. That is, the external example I gave of becoming attractive to your wife is also negative. It’s coming from a place of insufficiency, and the need to change is being expressed in terms of the (present) undesirable state rather than the desirable future.
It’s hard to state this certainly, but I think the naturally strongest caring is internal and positive. Said differently, the best way to care is to aspire to reach a new and better state. This is hugely superior to a negative motivation from an external source. Consider these two stories:
- I get angry and yell at my husband a lot and he’s threatening that we’ll have to start going to marriage counseling if I don’t reign it in.
- I don’t like the way it feels to be angry at my husband. I want to cultivate the harmonious relationship that we enjoy when I keep my anger under control.
It may be obvious, but the first example is kind of impotent. Because the definition of the change comes from an external source, the speaker doesn’t express the power to define, control, and match it nearly so easily. Because the expression is negative, in terms of only the anger, it doesn’t suggest immediately what the aspiration is for or toward. Defining only the thing that should go away makes it hard to plan for actually making the desired change.
Obviously, it’s not the case that the language of your caring changes everything. No pair of statements I’ve offered is meaningfully different in the actual change it’s pointing toward and hoping to cultivate. But the meaning, and how that change is held, is.
To care best, you should find a way that a change makes sense to you, and that you can express it as an internal change that will have positive thrust. Seeing the good that you can cause when you follow through and execute your plan about how to change makes the action itself much easier to do.
We naturally care more deeply about our own desires than those of others. We naturally find it easier to care and change when we can see the good that will come of it. When you’re trying to make a change in your life, taking advantage of those two facts is a great first step.