This is the first of four posts about caring, constructed from excerpts from Nel Noddings' 1984 book Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education, with some other quotations and thoughts thrown in.
The individual matters, and he matters more than the society. [Richard Hoggart]
To act as the one-caring is to act with special regard for the particular person in the specific situation. The teacher acting as one-caring might say to the student, "All of this [that we are learning] is of variable importance and significance, but you still matter more."
The danger is that caring, which is essentially non-rational, may too abruptly be transformed into rational problem-solving. When receiving another, we do not begin by formulating or solving a problem, but by sharing a feeling; we are impelled to attentive quietude.
If rational thinking is to be put in the service of caring, we must at the right moments turn back from generalities towards the individual. At times we must suspend rational thinking and allow time and space for feeling.
It might be useful to think in terms of movements between modes. We might switch between a receptive mode which allows us to receive the individual - putting ourselves quietly into the presence of the individual - to a rational problem solving mode, but always returning back to the individual.
There are ‘turning points’. As we convert what we have received from the other into a problem, something to be solved, we turn away from them. We clean up his reality, strip it of complexity, in order to think about it. All this is to be expected and is entirely appropriate provided that we see the essential turning points and move back to the personal. If we do not turn back to the personal, we lose the one cared-for. Indeed we lose ourselves as ones-caring, caring about a problem instead of for a person.
The one-caring may perhaps begin by thinking, ‘What if this were my child?’ In the move toward the individual, feeling can be modified by the introduction of personal facts and histories, and the feelings of others.
Being-in-the-world is essentially care… being with the Dasein-with of others as we encounter it within-the-world could be taken as caring-for. [Heidegger, Being and Time, (p.193)]
The notion of 'feeling-with' Noddings calls engrossment. We do not put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we do not project; we aim to receive the other into ourself, we feel-with the other. All caring involves engrossment; our first obligation is to meet the other as one-caring.
We enter a feeling mode, but it is not necessarily an emotional mode. In such a mode, we receive what-is-there without evaluation or assessment. This is not what Sartre termed a degradation of consciousness, although it may be accompanied by an observable change in energy pattern. We are not attempting to transform the person or the world, we are allowing ourselves to be transformed.
It is a lateral move of some sort. It is characterised by outer quietude and inner voices and images, by absorption and sensory concentration. The one engrossed is listening, looking, feeling.
The receptive mode seems to be essential to living fully as a person; we may follow Heidegger in suggesting that care is at the heart of human existence.