What is Care?

Can care be defined with a simple string of words?

‘Caring’ doesn’t have any true synonyms.

It’s so broad a term it can’t be replaced with words far more specific such as concern, or personal interest, or responsibility.


Care is not a word to be trifled with. It isn’t one of those words that once you’ve noticed you’ve used it three times in a paragraph, you can just replace with anything. Not without an inevitable change in overall meaning.

Like therefore. Or thus, accordingly, consequently. Words with only the purpose to express, just syllables cinched together with meaning bestowed upon them.


To define care is an endless sentence spliced with commas, with paradoxes and contradictions at every second word.

One could say:

“Caring is an emotion and a state of mind alike, it’s uncontrollable, but nonetheless, to some extent, a choice one must make.”

Once something, or someone, has been entangled in your mind, lodged in your brain and has poked at your feelings, to let it go is to remove a piece of yourself. It either leaves naturally, over time, or sticks forever, in the back of your skull, dormant. It waits for the slightest memory, movement, to reawaken and burden you with its weight. It’s unpredictable, not consciously controlled.

But then sometimes, caring for certain things does not come naturally. Here, to care can be a conscious choice made by the beholder. Every day each of us hear of war, of famine, of global issues happening in places far away. In places where problems so big and imminent there affect us so minimally, so indirectly the repercussions can be felt less than a mosquito landing softly on our backs.

This doesn’t make any of us less aware. Informed as we are, we choose to ignore the itch of the bite, the itch of guilt that comes with simply knowing.

Is turning a blind eye, and telling ourselves that we ‘feel bad’, caring? Or is it merely a fleeting sense of guilt that will soon again disappear when the mosquito bite recedes back into our skin?

Those who truly do choose to care are the ones who don’t let the thought leave their brain as they walk away from the TV, or the newspaper where the bad news is written in bold. Those who eat and think of others who don’t have as much privilege as they. Who make a conscious choice to sort their scraps into the appropriate bins, who don’t donate a ten dollar bill to the local charity for the sole purpose of personal gratification.

People who really care about the situation of strangers make an effort. They don’t only begin to notice the homeless at Christmas time, but strive to remember their existence and aid their situation all year long.

So how does one define care?

There is the type of caring that comes naturally, unwittingly.

There is the kind of care that must be chosen, remembered. The kind of care that David Foster Wallace defines so well in his Kenyon Commencement Speech: the kind that involves “attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them.” (363). 

Both need to be nurtured, with actions and words.

Caring can be so much as a thought that leaves your mouth instead of cooking inside your brain forever.

Caring can be a turmoil of feelings that never exits your thoughts.

Caring can be so small a gesture.

The universal, the simplest form of the definition of caring could be:

‘Everyone has it, but no one has it all.’

No one cares for nothing, and no one can care for everything.

Truly, the only thing that can get in the way of caring about something, about anything, is oneself. The barrier between your mind and your actions, your words, is a glass ceiling that no one can’t break.

Everyone is so capable of it that none can be free of it.

And yet, the amount for which you choose to care for is entirely in your hands.