Thursday, October 02, 2003

Consumers of Care? 

This comes from Chris Corrigan’s globalchicago wiki, quoting one John McKnight:

[ed: oops, think I got the ownership wrong there, although I believe Chris is involved. The site in fact is put together by Michael Herman - thanks to George Nemeth for putting me right on this]

"Service systems can never be reformed so they will produce care. Care is the consenting commitment of citizens to one another. Care cannot be produced, privileged, managed, organized, administered or commodified. Care is the only thing a system cannot produce. Every institutional effort to replace the real thing is a counterfeit."

This rather reinforces Euan’s comment in my recent Soul@work post, that in the community of the workplace, corporate initiatives that are designed to engage the soul instead risk alienating it.

John goes on to say:

"Care is, indeed, the manifestation of a community. The community is the site for the relationships of citizens. And it is at this site that the primary work of a caring society must occur. If that site is invaded, co-opted, overwhelmed, and dominated by service-producing institutions, then the work of the community will fail. And the failure is manifest in families collapsing, schools failing, violence spreading, medical systems spinning out of control, justice systems becoming overwhelmed, prisons burgeoning, and human services degenerating."

It seems to have become the norm these days that care is expected to be provided by institutions – hospitals, schools, local authorities, national government – we have by and large become passive consumers of care, rarely providers of care to one another. Care has indeed become a commodity, and has thereby all but lost the quality of caring.

One of the attractive features of true communities that are recognisable as such is the way is which the members do indeed care for each other.

If John is right, and caring is an outcome of community, then we need to work on building community. And a week or so ago I quoted Don Iannone as saying: "...community evolves from a space where people are encouraged and rewarded for appreciating themselves and others".

Respect – appreciation – community – care.

I guess truly valuing those around us (and ourselves) is an essential pre-requisite of a caring society. Without such valuing, care-by-policy can only produce a hollow shell - a façade – leaving those “cared for” feeling more like a commodity themselves than a whole person.

[Later edit - I don't want to imply that no-one working in the so-called caring professions actually cares any more; but those that do, do so from their heart, not because their employer mandates it. And with the employers' focus on performance measures, league tables and budgets, its no wonder that real human care sometimes gets squeezed out].

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