Caring for another human being is a virtue. It is also a revelation of love in the world, preserving its humanity by making it a more humane and compassionate place to live. Caring, then, is the moral virtue that is most closely associated with love. As philosopher Donald DeMarco observes,
“When people care for another, ministering to each other’s needs, as a mother cares for her new baby, a doctor cares for a sick patient, or a teacher cares for a struggling student, the connection between love and virtue is evident.”1
To care, then, is to be aware of other human beings, being concerned about them, feeling for them in their suffering or validating their existence by noticing or recognizing them as persons. In short, to care is to be sensitive or attuned to the world of human beings.
To care is also to transcend oneself, moving beyond one’s own “world,” reaching out to another being in performing “small,” seemingly unnoticed, acts of kindness, not merely the “big,” heroic, obvious acts. One of the greatest joys in life is to “lose” oneself in acts of kindness, not even noticing when they are occurring. Such acts are truly human acts of love.
However, to lose the capacity to care is to degrade oneself, lower one’s dignity. For example, a person who is not bothered or even, at times, incensed at suffering and injustice is on the level of a stone or tree that feels nothing for others. Without caring, a person’s life lacks fulfillment, because a human being exists not only for himself or herself but also for others.
“The greatest disease in the West,” according to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “is being unwanted, unloved, uncared for.”2 Therefore, to care is to be human and when a person loses his or her capacity to care, that is, failing to pay attention to others and valuing their lives, he or she is, at the same time, failing to live up to the dignity of being a person; for insensitivity and indifference are not worthy of being human, of a person functioning at his or her best.
- Donald DeMarco, The Many Faces of Virtue (Steubenville, OH.: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2000), p. 71.
- Mother Teresa, Heart of Joy (Ann Arbor, MI.: Servant Books, 1987), p. 54, quoted in supra, p. 73.