In this edition of Good Reads, E&M editor Jessica Verheij recommends some of her favourite articles (and one podcast episode!) about the importance of taking care – of ourselves as well as the people and places around us. 

Over the last year, we have talked more about care than ever before (or, at least, as long as I can remember). We have talked endlessly about health care; how important it turned out to be, what it takes to protect or even rescue our national health systems, how incredibly heroic our health care workers are. Our collective eyes were opened to a reality most of us were not directly aware of. We have also, although less prominently, talked about other forms of care: taking care of the children that could no longer go to school, of the elderly that could no longer go grocery-shopping, of a neighbour, a family-member and, most importantly, of ourselves (we also wrote about it). Suddenly these topics became a big part of our conversations with colleagues (“I hope you and your loved ones are doing well”), friends and family. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about care, and what kind of role it plays in my personal life and in my everyday surroundings.

Care as a crucial part of our upbringing

In this episode of The Ezra Klein Show, Ezra interviews Alison Gopnik – a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California Berkeley. I learned a lot from listening to this podcast. Alison talks about how the unconditional love of parents towards their children is essential from a biological perspective, as it ensure that children are taken care of while busy exploring the world. This exploration phase is essential for human development, as it allows us to collect as much information about the world as possible; to experiment, to test and to not take anything for granted. This phase is then followed by the ‘exploitation’ phase, our adult life, in which instead of exploring, we try to accomplish goals, to plan ahead and to maximize our opportunities. But the exploitation is only possible because of the exploration.

Care is crucial, but, so she explains, we don’t care for someone because we love them – we love someone as we care for them. Care in itself is a human necessity, as we need to take care of others to feel accomplished and happy. And, if we care for someone, we eventually end up loving them.

A Caring Revolution

Taking care | Photo by Jack Finnigan (Unsplash) | Unsplash licence

This article by Lynn Berger is about The Care Manifesto, a manifesto written by a small group of scholars and activities that believe that care deserves a more prominent position in the way we organize our societies. The article was published on the journalism platform The Correspondent that, sadly, did not financially survive 2020. Their work, however, remains accessible and shareable.

The manifesto addresses the need to take care of ourselves, our family, and our friends. But also, it talks about the importance of practicing care in a more societal way. Everyone needs care, and everyone needs to take care. Instead of talking about care as a pathological condition, the manifesto calls for care to be part of our life. Because, so it is argued, we have a responsibility for the community in which we live.

Care becomes political, because to be able to take care we need resources: mainly time, in some cases money. We choose to care for one person or one community, and not for another. Sometimes, taking care of one thing means discounting or destroying something else.

Caring for nature

Human beings have a need for caring. This extents to other human beings, but it goes just the same for nature – at least according to the biophilia hypothesis. It argues that human beings have a built-in desire to be near to nature because, in evolutionary terms, proximity to nature means access to food and to fresh water.

If we take Alison Gopnik’s words, we love because we care. And so, taking care of nature makes us love nature, feel connected to and responsible for the natural environment. Taking care of nature implies action. And this is precisely one of the points made by Paul Kingsnorth in his essay on Dark Ecology. It is already a couple of years old, but I like to go back to this text once in a while. Not because I necessarily agree with everything he says, but, first, because I get very inspired by his writing itself – his essays are a beautiful balance between reflections, anecdotes, and literary references. Second, because it helps me to explore my own role in the environmental movement.

The essay finishes with a couple of recommendations. One of them is precisely about what it means to take care of the environment: it means action.

“[Get] your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.”

Cover photo (bird): Bonnie Kittle via Unsplash, Unsplash licence 

  • retro

    Jessica Verheij is originally from the Netherlands but has spent a major part of her life in Portugal. After having spent six months in Ghana, she lived in Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm, although always returning to her favorite city Lisbon. She currently lives in Bern, Switzerland, where she is working on her PhD on urban and spatial planning in relation to sustainable development.

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