Why Do We Care?

When Lexa (https://goo.gl/3P9vcH) one of the lead characters in the TV series The100 (https://goo.gl/E3T3ig) died there was such an outcry from the fans that the show’s creator, Jason Rothenberg, felt obliged to blog an apology about it: https://goo.gl/UhoyMD.

This is more than a symbolic gesture or evidence of hysterical audiences that lose touch with reality. Those of us who watch TV series unfolding learn to care about the characters. What happens to fictional entities becomes important to us and makes us think about them, which begs the question why do we care? Why do we care at all, about anything and anyone, beyond our own well-being?

One particular study suggests that we are hardwired to care: https://goo.gl/MQkn1f. We care about fictional characters perhaps because we use them as practice to learn to care about real people: https://goo.gl/2fNFHo. Or because we simply have a mechanism inside us that make us care which cannot distinguish between a real and sufficiently detailed ‘unreal’ situation.

Empathy, caring, our ability to imagine the pain of others (and try to wish it away) are part of what makes us, who we are: https://goo.gl/ddqWKp and not having such attitudes begins to strip us from our humanity perhaps (https://goo.gl/q0UQL).

Because we are more emotional actors than rational ones learning to identify our emotionality and deal with it is a skill that has yet to be practiced properly as Dr. Guy Winch suggests (https://goo.gl/GZPLZc). Interestingly, the question of why should we care is frequently being asked in public (https://goo.gl/m4t9mr) with some fairly revealing answers (https://goo.gl/rP4O3t) which suggest that we have yet to completely work out a way of coping with our need to care about others while caring about our self.

One of the areas where this dichotomy is felt most acutely is the media where the way it decides what to report and what not to involves a selection process guided by an editor’s notion of what we care the most about: https://goo.gl/LkCZh7.

The internet that has changed so many things in our lives and is making it possible to fashion a new world whose shape and values we are not yet 100% sure of, is also making it possible to express new ways of caring (https://goo.gl/PljZtL) guided by the old ones (https://goo.gl/ArBQwQ). In a way all this direct talk about caring is an indirect conversation about morality: https://goo.gl/F4yF6O. Living in a connected, largely transparent world where someone is looking at us most times we seek to understand how to best behave when no one is and, above all, divine the reasons why: https://goo.gl/gZ1SQJ.

These are important questions. Dan Ariely suggests that our moral code, like most evolutionary traits, is buggy: https://goo.gl/lBh12B, being made to operate in an environment it was not truly made for. Others, like Sam Harris, see hope in science and the possibility of it supplying us with somewhat more certain answers to our questions on a living good life and morality: https://goo.gl/Hyy96l.

Harris talks about moral relativism (https://goo.gl/PduWjC) and, understandably has come in for some critical examination: https://goo.gl/DeRpXy. Inevitably, morality becomes politicized (https://goo.gl/KQ1GiR) because politics allows us to learn how to best live with each other in the scale that we try to organize our societies. The Stanford University’s treatise on the subject, goes somewhat deeper: https://goo.gl/510ta.

The point however is that all this is academic if we don’t have any ability of using our sense of the need to care for others to connect with people as people instead of entities that notionally exist somewhere: https://goo.gl/YIJqjJ.

We face a very direct challenge today: When we can connect with and affect so many, so easily and be affected by them in turn and when these people are not of our direct, physical, geographically bound ‘tribe’ working out the rules we need to play by, figuring out our responsibilities and understanding the impact of our actions, decisions and thoughts is a task we have barely began.

At which point do our well-meaning intentions become judgement, prejudice and unwelcome interference? At what level does our caring become a drive to culturally colonize the minds of others or our uncaring become a call for isolationism? A statement that as long as we are OK, things are fine and people elsewhere just need to figure the same thing out for themselves?

These are not easy questions and I have no real answers to them just yet. What works for me, as an individual (and I suspect maybe for you too) comes down to the degree of effort I am willing to invest and discomfort I am willing to put up with. Not everyone of us is in the same mental and psychological place. Not everyone of us is willing to face up to the deficiencies within their own carefully constructed world view and suggest to themselves that it needs to be re-examined. Yet, there is no escaping the fact that unless we are willing to invest effort in the things that matter, then they will cease to matter.

I hope you’ve managed to make the right moral choices this week in your shopping which means that you are now considering all this from the midst of lakes of coffee and mountains of donuts, cookies, croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.
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