Article 5 - Show that you care

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The most destructive of narratives always seem to be born out of loving places.

One of the recurring sentiments from my childhood was "show that you care”, a guiding principle from my mother. In her experience, many an important relationship had festered as a result of others simply not "showing that they cared". The absence of this is partly what led to the failure of my parents’ marriage and ultimately fractured my family. Hence, it was imperative that my mother raised children who understood that "just caring" was not enough; "don't just care, show it".

"Caring" was a verb in so much as it was a feeling in my family growing up. "Caring" meant keeping my mother's household in good condition, it meant an active effort to engage in less destructive methods of communications during conflict and it meant fulfilling my duties to myself, my sister, and my mother.

My sister and I understood that "just caring" meant almost nothing if it was not substantiated by affirmative actions for those we cared for. As I matured, I inevitably shirked my responsibilities to those I "cared" about - in the typical, feeling, sense. Primarily, this took the form of not sticking to my word, my general disorderly influence on the house, and not staying in close enough contact with my extended family. My mother dutifully stressed her "caring" reminder. As much as it was difficult to uphold, it was a welcome sentiment that added depth and reason for appreciation to my relationships. Subsequently, it is an expectation I have held up to others in my life who mean something to me. In close relationships, when they have been tested, I have found myself uttering the same phrases: "show that you care", "love is a verb, not a feeling, not a claim". I found myself sounding like an all too familiar record, and coincidentally, a self-jeopardising one.

That did not sit well with me.

It was only in returning home last summer, after a year of turmoil and not seeing the care that I sought in others, that I started to truly show that I cared myself. It was the small things like consistently cleaning up after myself and, for once, others. In fulfilling my promises and commitments whilst generally pulling my weight, I found myself helping rather hindering; I finally felt as if I was truly of net benefit to the home that I was in.

Not showing that I cared had been a problem stemming from a lack of independence. To fulfil the requests that were being made of me, a self-governance - that the home environment was not conducive to - was required. My mother, in a housekeeping sense, was helping me too much. She was unwilling to be failed again, unwilling to be disappointed with the state that the home would descend into if she did not keep incessantly on top of things. Previously, I had been ineffective at communicating my intentions to pull my weight and had thus reached a crossroads with progress with this matter: “If you want an adult's level of orderliness, you must treat me like an adult, and if you continue to pick up my slack, I cannot be that, so I will fail you,” I told myself, "it will be different when I move out". The ball was in her court and it was my mother that needed to budge first.

I was right, but only about the former.

The solution started with an intervention stemming from a simple realisation: "if I am not getting what I need or want from myself, the world and the people in it, it is not they that are in need of change, it is I." Despite it indeed being the environment that was resisting me with this matter, it was not there that the keys to solving this issue lay. I needed to find a way of communicating my intentions and affecting my surroundings in the means needed to overcome this; this was a matter of effective problem solving. Where I needed to focus was with the person in control of this environment, my mother. I sought to convey things in a way that explained what was obstructing me from overcoming my shortcomings:

"If you continue to do for someone something that they should be doing themselves, they will never start doing it until you stop. And as soon as you start doing it again, their actions will desist. Similarly, if you continue to ask, they will never see; they will never grow into the person who is aware and operates off of their own accord as you so desperately desire."

What that ultimately resulted in was me telling my mother to never touch any of the things I should be doing for myself again. Ever. Under any circumstances.

Questioning if I had the authority to play the legislate, but confident that this was the only way to fix a problem that had been misaddressed for years, I conveyed to my mother that never again did I want to hear her complain about having to do or having done things that I should have done myself. I said "I probably want to be doing all of the things that I should be doing more than you want me to. I do most of them without any problems when I am at uni." I conveyed that "I don't think I ever will pull my weight, let alone others', in this household if you continue to swoop in an get things done at the first (or fifth) sign of apathy or procrastination on my part. At this moment, I just cannot keep up with your pace of operations, and you are all too willing to reluctantly pick up the slack and shoulder my responsibilities." I stressed that "this needs to stop, and permanently, or I will make it my mission to never pull my weight around here again." I conveyed that "this will mean that things may look a bit frayed around the edges for a while, but that is necessary for me to acclimatise to the pace. That needn't be an opportunity to jump in and take over."

It was devastatingly effective.

A few weeks later, I took a trip to Bristol to work for a few days. Upon arriving back home, I relayed to my mother that my departure represented the first time that I had left the house feeling as if I was of genuine benefit - feeling, on every level, that I had fulfilled my duties to the household rather than being a burden. I had always wanted others' lives to be easier in my presence, but this was the first time that I had felt as if I was actually showing that I cared.

I explained: "this whole 'show that you care' narrative was one that seems well intentioned, and seems positive, but it actually has been doing more harm than good. It was unduly putting the emphasis on the person making the requests; the person crafting a very specific measuring stick of care and discrediting any manifestations of such that they see in others which does not fit their mould. At the worst of times, this can have effects similar to emotional manipulation; guilt-tripping others through attributing their inevitable failure to realise your vision and questioning the sincerity of their care for you in the process. Rather, I believe what would prove more productive, is to focus not on the ways in which you want this care to be demonstrated, but to take into consideration the situations the person you are making the requests from finds themselves in, and the methods they choose to express and enact said care.

"This is not a cop-out from any duties of care that you are owed," I explained, "in diverting the attention away from the person whom the requests are addressed to, it places their attention on you - the person making the requests - rather than on them and the situation they find themselves in. This situation is from which the problem stems, and it is there where the internal shifts need to take place. Only then can they extract the difference from themselves and from the world that they, or you in this instance, seek. Hence, drawing the attention to yourself serves only to distance us all from the true source of the problem."

I made references to my sister, who has been going through challenges for a while now, a lot of which my mother faced at a similar age. I said "in that situation, one could (as was not done) launch a whole load of emotionally charged propositions at her: 'I have done so much for you...', 'If you were grateful at all...', 'If you truly loved me...', 'If you wanted to make me happy, you would just {insert whatever someone has requested from you here} because you know how much it means to me... You would show that you care.'"

One of the easiest examples of this having materialised pertains to my sister's room. My sister, a little like the part of myself I have been seeking to exorcise out, is not the tidiest of people. This has at times been attributed to a lack of care for my mother and a disrespect for her household.

Conveying one of the quotes that had stuck with me this past year, "your mind is your room", I relayed to my mother that "it is easy to see that no claims derived from the previous – 'show that you care' – sentiments would have any long-term effect on improving the situation. It is just not where the problem lies. This unkemptness was a state of being my sister and I alike needed to grow out of, not a manifestation of a lack of care or respect." I relayed that my mother has been where my sister has been and hence knows better than the rest of us that this a matter of growth. "That growth forms the sole sustainable driving force keeping that room clean. Really and truly, it will have nothing to do with you (my mother). If that quote was anything to go by, it was never my sisters' room that needed sorting out, it was her mind."

I conveyed that in my experience, "showing that I cared all of a sudden after my intervention had nothing to do with anything you were saying. It had nothing to do with a change in my feelings towards you. It had everything to do, however, with a shift in myself and only myself. I had been putting in what truly felt like my upmost for years and feeling awful about my failures - I would have solved the problem if I could. I had cared all along, of course I had, I was just not in the environment suited for me to grow into the person you wanted and needed me to be. Not until I took actions to change that in the form of my ultimatum."

My mum responded proposing that surely it is, in part, about her. Surely, if I knew how much it meant to her, me not (showing that I cared by) maintaining an orderly household was a reflection of how I felt about her. If it (orderliness), and therefore my mother, meant enough to me, I would have done it - I would have simply shown that I cared. "Surely, " she said, "as your mother, I am in the equation."

I framed my reply around a sentiment that I am now growing to reject: "I believe humans, especially myself, are the epitome of selfish; there isn't an inkling of altruism present." I elaborated: "although the majority of what I do and what I strive for is to please you (you are one of my pushes), it was never about you. I want to be the son who pleases his mother, I want to grow into someone who makes everyone proud, I want to lessen the burden of life for those that I care about. I am dead set on being the best possible husband I can be for my future wife, it dictates almost everything I do. I don't even know who she is yet, but as soon as she walks into my life, my efforts won't suddenly become a consequence of her, they were always for me and they will always remain about solely me; me fulfilling my potential as the best husband I can be. Similar applies for my children; I don't even know if I will have any, yet I want to be the best father I can be, for personal pride at this point, not for them (yet)."

Relating this back to my household affairs, I begged the question: "if I am unable to do it (maintain orderliness) even for myself, if I am unable to attain what I want from life by means of effecting change on my environments in the ways in which I seek, what makes you think that I have the extra capacity to start doing so for you as well?

"As much as problems of showing that we care are always about the people we care for, it is never about them," I continued, "so no, it was never about you, you were never in the equation. And as long as you put yourself in that equation by saying 'show that you care', you remove the focus from the individual addressing their own problems and the self-incentivised pursuit of growing into the best person they can be for themselves, in as far as that relates to you. As long as you put yourself in that equation, you distance them from the solution. You present yourself as a barrier and, on a more insidious level, it serves only to distance, distract and divide us."

The following day, I was reflecting on that last point, the one I made about distancing, distracting, and dividing. I was also reflecting on the times I had used such claims and the effects it had had on me and the relationship in which they were being used. This was when the true effect the request "show that you care" presented itself to me:

The times that I found myself saying "show that you care", less so did this come from a place simply requesting action, but rather it was asking "why don't you care?" Moreover, from a place of vulnerability, isolation, and insecurity, it was begging the question: "why don't you care about me?"

In an attempt to attain the response I wanted – the affirming testimony of affection from those I cared about – I had woven my self-worth into the equation. I had soured a call to action, disguising within it an attempt at self-validation based on how the people who “claimed” to care about me would respond to my demands. This took the guise of sentiments like: "If you truly loved me...", "If you wanted to make me happy you would just {insert whatever someone has told you here} because you know how much it means to me... you would show that you care."

That had been hugely damaging to myself primarily, but also to the relationship in which this was occurring within. Coincidently, the relationship I had deployed this move in had ultimately failed.

For both parties in my "show that you care" situations, the solution to such problems always stemmed from and pertained to oneself. When it had been me making the requests, on an insecure level, I was projecting my self-worth into equation and leveraging others' failure to live up to my demands as a guilt tool. And why? Retrospect has presented the only feasible answer as the pursuit of a sense of emotional justice.

Once the (false) link has been made between their actions and their feelings about me, I had dug my own grave and only I stood to get hurt. But surely that was not fair? It is them that is causing the problem, so it should be them that should be made to face the emotional ramifications? So I offloaded the pain and discomfort. They may have been fine, for example, with (the state of their room,) the frequency at which they replied to my messages, how often they reached out to me in comparison to me reaching out to them, how punctual they were when we met, and the validity of the excuses that would ensue. By deploying the "show that you care" card, however, I could ensure that by the end of my say they were fine no longer. And what was my say? "If you felt like { this } about me, then you would { that }... you would show that you cared."

Guilt leveraging? Check. They feel bad too? Check. Justice? Check.

What this has led me to realise is that the solution to the problems where I found myself saying "show that you care" never laid with them. Rather it was always within myself. Similar to the household orderliness affair, it was not that they did not care enough. The problem was either that I felt so distant, so unimportant and so unconnected to someone who I desperately wanted to be connected to - to a relationship that I desperately wanted a feeling of significance in or influence over - that I had constructed a framework in which I could validate this illusive influence. I had created the rules and the incentives to navigate this game, and they involved requests for others' compliance and a healthy dose of guilt.

Now this was never done consciously or with any attempts to bring others down, but that is exactly what it achieved - my insecurities have a tendency to operate on a rather insidious yet less detectable level.

Perhaps having learned from the best (my mother), I had got so consumed in my vision of what "care" looked like that I was failing to accept care in the ways in which others had to give it. Either that or they simply were not in the correct position in themselves and their lives to fulfil my requests.

Rather than the easy, "show that you care", route out in the face of insecurity or disappointment, I needed to cease drawing such attention to myself and divert it to the situations that others found themselves in. I needed to investigate how I could assist others in changing their outlooks and environments as to ensure that they are optimised to enact the change, not that I require, but that they require from themselves.

In the interests of protecting myself and my relationships, I need to truly show that I care to myself and others. All along it proved true – this care is a verb rather than just a feeling. However, I am realising that the care that may be most needed from me is the care of abstinence; biting my tongue and abstaining from blame as I wade through seas of insecurity and perceived ineffectuality or disconnection. I must ensure that I do not allow myself to weave validation attempts into my relations, creating domains ensnared only with opportunity for others to fail me, and orchestrating the demise of said connections in the process. Applying a dose of my own legislative medicine, never again do I want to find myself saying "show that you care".

I may find that my relationships and my self-worth depend on it.

Written by Yunus Skeete


PDProject Founder and Manager

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