The Heart of Our Work: Caring
I went to hear Ai-jen Poo speak a few weeks back in San Francisco on her book release tour for Age of Dignity in which she calls for a transformation of our culture to prioritize “care” as our society experiences an “elder boom.” After many years of organizing with domestic workers and building national alliances, Ai-jen shared her vision at the event for a world where we are all met with respect and dignity – as we live, as we work, and as we die. Like Jackie, I have been eager to read Ai-jen’s book.
Ai-jen writes, “Care is something we do; it’s something we want; it’s something we can improve. But more than anything it’s the solution to the personal and economic challenges we face in this country. It doesn’t just heal or comfort people individually; it really is going to save us all.”
Ai-jen crafts a proposal for how we can change the culture, behaviors and policies related to care, to awaken our “caring majority.” She says,
“I think of the caregivers I know—their courage, resilience, dedication, and heart.…Most things that have ever been worth fighting for were at the outset deemed impossible. Our job is to make the impossible not only possible but inevitable, and it is completely within our power to do so.”
As we organize for social and economic justice in our communities, it is critical to be reminded of how caring is at the core of what our movements are about. Ai-jen is speaking specifically about elder care, but I read within her book, a call for caring about each other and understanding how we are all intertwined, young and old, across boundaries and borders.
Whether it is creating possibilities for women and girls to thrive, to ensuring workers have protections on the job, to curbing climate change, our work for social change is rooted in caring about each other, and igniting the “caring” within others.
The Dalai Lama spoke of how caring can nourish the people who care:
“If you shift your focus from yourself to others, extend your concern to others, and cultivate the thought of caring for the well being of others, then this will have the immediate effect of opening up your life and helping you to reach out.”
I’m sure many of you, who have played a caring role – tending to a loved one, volunteering, counseling, making a donation, advocating, marching – have experienced the joy and power of sharing yourself and your care with others. It is truly the core of what our work for social transformation is about.
I would be remiss to not mention the importance of self-care, however, which becomes important when the balance of caring we offer is more to others than to ourselves. In her book, Ai-jen shares stories from many family caretakers, the large majority of whom are women, who struggle with the many responsibilities of taking care of a loved one. They experience fatigue, guilt, anger, and isolation. Caring for ourselves is also an essential part of transforming our culture.
Writer, Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We all know that self-care can be an act of “warfare” when our systems are not set up to support our “preservation” – especially for people of color, women, LGBTQ identified folks, and poor people. For all of us, self-care is a political act that ensures we can fully participate and contribute to our communities.
To the many leaders who are advocating for a caring society, like Ai-jen and the Movement Makers, I am grateful for their commitment and vision. With the many complex challenges we face in our society today, caring is at the heart of the solution.
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