Ethics of Care and Self-Care
This newsletter continues from where we left off on Sunday looking at care ethics. I outline a possible way to apply care ethics to the self. After a brief description of what each step could look like, I give it a shot myself to make the example more concrete.
To begin, I reiterate the foundational claim of care ethics which is the recognition that differences in power will always exist in real relationships, and so consideration should be given to how to navigate these natural differences. I would claim this is not only true between peoples, but is also true within ourselves. This is tricky because we do not fully understand what we are, but for example, the idea of Phillip seems to have some sway over what is called Phillip’s body. Whatever we are, whatever I am, I seem to have some amount of power over my own characteristics. If I am able to work on myself, change myself, perhaps even improve myself, then this is a relationship where power is at play even though the agent and object seem the same. This is why I think care ethics has a connection to self-care. We continue with a restatement of the three proposed steps of care ethics then adapt them to potential practices of self-care.
Listening to the needs of those who are excluded, marginalized or exploited, and vulnerable.
Applied to the self, this could look like a habit of doing check-ins throughout the day. Moments where you stop and pay attention to how you are feeling, how you are breathing. Paying particular attention for thoughts, feelings, impulses, that are being pushed out of your awareness, that are making you feel vulnerable, or that are pushing you or compelling you towards certain actions.
Checking in and listening to myself as I write this, I note tension resulting from having forgotten to get this done until the last minute despite having discussed in earlier in the day, and anxiety about the reality of who I am in this moment with this small shortcoming. One that is only seen when the ideal that Phillip sets for itself is compared with the real actions of its body.
Reflecting on an understanding of which relations of dependence are built on mutual trust and support, and which are built on manipulation and supremacy, and why.
Applied to the self, this could look like reflecting on the tension we place on ourselves to live up to our own self-ideals. It sounds trite and stale even now as I write it, but that may be due to how pervasive such tension is. Reflecting on the power we exert on ourselves could look like examining this ideal we set for ourselves by asking, what are our identities? Not just things like race and gender, but also things like ‘I am good at board games’ or ‘I am a person others come to when they need help’. Which of these identities did we consent to and which are built into us through socialization or other processes?
Reflecting on myself, I see the idealized characteristics of ‘responsible’ or ‘good at self-management’ exerting power over me, characteristics that I am subconsciously attempting to thrust into my self-identity. I would like to easily experience these preferable characteristics in my own body and actions, and this causes me to have a light physical and emotional response when that potential integration seems threatened by the reality of who and how I am being in these moments that are today. Though the example here is light, it is worthwhile to still ask where this impulse comes from. When did I consent to trying to change myself towards particular characteristics? Why these ones and not others? If I can only change myself in bits at a time or pursue only so many in a single moment, why this one now?
Responding to the voices of others only after listening and reflecting on the way in which power, vulnerability, and care influence the relationship.
Applied to the self, this could look like learning new ways to work on ourselves, or letting go of identities or characteristics that we have been conditioned to place on ourselves. For example, I had to learn to let go of my identity as doctor, researcher, and academic when I left my graduate program to join seminary. Identities that I had been pursuing not because I thought they were what was right for me, but because they fell within what I thought was acceptable and seemingly expected of me, who I ought to be. That tension between the identity I pursued and the truth of who I was, am, and could be resulted in heightened anxiety and panic attacks, and moments of powerful emotional relief when the burden was lifted.
In summary, applying care ethics to the self could look like listening to how we are feeling, who we think we are, and who we think we should be in moments or across years. Reflecting on where these feelings and self-ideals or identities come from and whether they are supportive and nurturing or manipulative and harmful. And finally, responding to our own self-exploration with the trust and mercy.