Why should we care about the work in front of us?

This may appear to be an absurd question. The reasons should be obvious. But any time the words “should” and “obvious” appear in a sentence, I quite often find it useful to take a closer look.

When we care about something, we pay attention to it. Further, we pay a depth of attention. The greater that investment, the greater the care.

Meanwhile, as we sustain attention on something, we tend to find more meaning in it. Meaning is something developed over time. It involves a depth and breadth of connection between thoughts, emotions, and experience, conscious and unconscious. The greater that depth and breadth, the more meaningful it is. That holds for what a single person finds meaningful or for a community.

Developing meaning is a fine goal, but let’s go further.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” -Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Campbell, author of The Power of Myth and The Hero With a Thousand Faces, notes that people generally do not seek a “meaning of life”, but instead seek a feeling of being alive. But surely these ideas are related. In fact, I wonder if the development of meaning—within, through, and around ourselves—at least lends to a feeling of being alive.

If the theory holds, then by actively finding ways to care, not only about our work, but also about those around us and beyond, we gain an experience of being alive.

Now, we cannot simply say, “Ok, I’ll care then.” Caring is not something one can force into being.

Let’s consider the the nature of caring in the context of depression. Depression often carries a symptom of not caring, or at least caring less, about one’s self or others. The process forms a wall between the self and the world. One’s sense of being alone builds and sometimes even paradoxically heightens when in the midst of others.

Often that sense isolation is related to a feeling of disconnect, not only from others, but from anything that feels meaningful. It is hardly surprising, then, to see that a parallel emotion is a lack of feeling alive.

Telling someone who is depressed “to care” is similar to saying, “snap out of it”, which is about as helpful as a slap in the face.

Navigating one’s way out of the hole of depression is rarely a simple matter. However, a common thread in treatments tends to be to try to find something tiny that can be done. So long as that tiny action connects to what feels meaningful, a small spark of vitality sometimes appears. Picking up a single stray piece of clothing in a room of total disarray is sometimes helpful. Any development will, of course, still need nurturing and guidance, but a start is a start.

I present depression as an example of great distance from caring to highlight the growing nature of caring. It is not something one simply does. Instead, it is developed over time—a practice.

As we focus upon something, weaving a rhythm of being with it in some harmony with our lives, consider how it can be meaningful, we tend to care more and feel more alive in the process.