I remember growing up reading a cross-stitch poem on my parents’ wall:
Who hath a friend with whom to share
hath double cheer and one-half care.
The sense of “care” used here, and in similar sayings like “not a care in the world”, really seems more like what I’d call “worry”, and not so much that someone with a friend has less to care for or care about. Indeed, the word for “care” grew out of Old English roots of grief and anxiety, and the more familiar positive senses developed later. This is a case where I’m glad a word’s meaning has shifted over time, because I see two big differences between caring about something and worrying about it:
Worrying is negative, caring is neutral.
When I worry about something, I’m dwelling on negative possibilities. On the other hand, caring about something just means that I have preferences regarding it. If anything I think the “care for” senses of “care” lend a positive connotation, but at its heart saying you care about something is just saying that its state matters to you.
Worrying is about feelings, caring is about action.
What does it look like to worry about your health? I imagine hand-wringing and sad facial expressions as you contemplate the possibility of bodily deterioration. Now what does it look like to care about your health? To me, that conjures up images of cooking vegetable-filled meals, getting good nights’ sleep, and making sure to exercise regularly. These are very different ways of expressing that you prefer good health to bad.
Why am I thinking about this now? Because I’ve been using worry as a way to make sure I keep caring. If I sense that I’m not putting enough time and effort into something I think is important (like applying for jobs and making good impressions on the people I meet), my gut response is to invoke my worry mechanisms and think about the terrible things that might happen if I don’t shape up. But I’m realizing that (a) too much worry doesn’t spur activity, it dampens it, and (b) that’s not the only way to make sure I care about important things anyway. I can spend time with or read books written by people who value what I want to value, and I can practice scheduling time for the things I do value but would otherwise fall through the cracks.
What would it look like to worry less about how other people feel about me, and care more about how other people feel around me? To worry less about finding the perfect job, and care more about making a positive contribution to the world? I’m not sure yet, but I’m excited to find out.