Who Cares about Caring?

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE MORE long-lived current buzzwords is "caring." Its popularity can be tested by the many uses and meanings. We send CARE packages to the needy overseas. Pres. John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps was seen as a world-caring organization. Children were enthralled with Care Bears. We find a number of medical people calling themselves health care professionals, with general practitioners referred to as primary care physicians. Nurses see their role as a caring vs. a curing one, the exception being nurse practitioners.

Nursing homes and hostels boast of their caring personnel. At one time, British Airways advertised, "We'll take good care of you." US. post offices have a large sign that reads, "WE CARE," each letter spelling out a service.

Every politician has caring as a plank in his or her platform. They promise to care for the homeless, unemployed, elderly, poverty-stricken, hungry, the environment, and small businessmen. In 1988, George Bush campaigned for a kinder and gentler society--in short, a caring society--and people responded to it by electing him president. Today, the non-caring person virtually is a social pariah. It seems nearly everyone wants care on demand.

The late French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, pointed out that, fundamentally, caring is making oneself available to others, putting oneself at their disposal without somehow invading their privacy. The great German thinker, Immanuel Kant, maintained that caring is a disinterested duty which, when done for the sake of reward, loses its ethical nature.

Yet, there are questions about caring that ought to be raised lest we be carried away by high-minded altruism. While not all people are caring individuals, just about everyone wants to be cared about and, when need be, cared for.

First, it is important to distinguish between institutional care-giving and that of private citizens. The former is necessarily more impersonal in its functions. AIDS activists, for example, keep excoriating the government for not allocating more funds for medical research, when, in fact, the government is doing just about all it can, given the complex nature of the disease and other priorities it faces. Approximately $3,000,000,000 went to AIDS research in 1991, about what the government spent for cancer, a disease that affects 10 times as many people. Pressure groups often want drugs approved that have not been tested fully yet by the Food and Drug Administration. They have forgotten the wisdom of not allowing the tranquilizer thalidomide on the American market when it was so popular in Europe decades ago, thus avoiding the birth defects that subsequently ensued.

Companies that refuse to allow family leave or decline to set up nurseries or day care for children of its employees also are accused of not caring. Yet, businesses today have such a tough time just making it that it's difficult to blame them for not opening up a Pandora's box to disgruntled parents. …

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