On caring “too much”

“Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”

-John Green

It is always okay to care. There is no such thing as caring too much.

I’ve said to myself on many occasions, “I wish I didn’t care about this” or “I wish I didn’t care so much.” It occurred to me that the reason I said this was not actually because I wish I didn’t care. It was because I didn’t want to feel pain. I wanted to care and not have to cry when things didn’t go the way I wanted.

When I didn’t have feelings of love reciprocated, I said this. When I didn’t achieve the goals I’d set for myself in speech and debate, I said this. I said this until Mr. Adams posted a tweet that I’ll never forget. Then, I stopped saying it altogether.

He wrote something along the lines of “Wouldn’t life just be so much easier if we didn’t have to think or feel, and we just consumed and existed?” I thought he was being serious, at first.

I replied, “You want to be an amoeba?”

He wrote, “That would be awesome! But an amoeba with human disney-like animorphic qualities.

“Which I guess is saying that I don’t want life to be easy.”

Yeah. Maybe it’s hard to care sometimes. It’s harder not to care.

It’s hard to feel trapped, like there’s no good choice of action. It’s hard to feel like everything is going to end in tragedy no matter what you do.

Yet, even there, there’s an underlying assumption: that everything is going to end in tragedy, no matter what you do.

As human beings, we have choices, and some will be better than others. Let’s say I’m having a fight with a friend. I can choose to 1) Wait and act later, 2) Message him/her, 3) Call him/her, 4) Talk to him/her in person, etc. etc.

One key action is also to do nothing at all. Sometimes, when doing something will make the problem worse (e.g. will make your friend hate you more), the best thing to do is to do nothing at all. It is to accept that the matter is not in your hands.

That, while being inaction, is still a choice that you have to make.

How could we ever make choices on how to resolve problems if we never cared? The feelings we get when we care make us pay attention and become thoughtful. When we care, the issue stays our mind long enough for us to contemplate the best solution. When we don’t care, we don’t bother thinking about it. We may act recklessly (“Screw what this ‘friend’ thinks about me! I don’t care!”). We may do more harm than we need to.

Caring is an indication that something matters to you. It means you are aware that you have priorities in life. When we care that we lost, it is because we wanted to win. When we care that someone doesn’t love us, it is because we love that person.

What happens when we deny that we care at all? Then, we aren’t really being true to ourselves. If we try to focus on other things because “I’m tired of caring” then what we’re really doing is lying to ourselves about what our priorities are and what matters to us.

Struggles exist regardless of what you prioritize in life. If you prioritize success in the form of getting straight As, you will find a struggle in trying to maintain your grades. If you prioritize your relationships with other people, you will find a struggle in maintaining those relationships. Life isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter what you choose. In fact, I don’t even know if you can choose. I don’t know how to be someone other than myself, so why not own my struggles?

Choosing to acknowledge that you care is exercising power over your life and taking ownership of your personal priorities. Saying that you wish you didn’t care is saying you wish you were someone else.

Finally, I want to acknowledge a difference between caring a lot and being outright obsessive. Once you acknowledge that you care, you have to be able to funnel that caring energy toward positivity. You have to be able to think about the issue with patience and rationality. This requires self love and acceptance, which (my experience tells me) isn’t necessarily easy. Self love isn’t something you have or don’t have; it is something to be practiced continuously.

If your act of “caring” about your latest problems leads to nothing but “I hate myself” or “I hate everyone” then you aren’t being fair. Have a certain level of confidence that you are human, that you and everything you care or have ever cared about really does matter. Then, understand what has happened, what you should do, and do it. Your emotions are there to guide you. Just make sure you are actually listening to them instead of making careless assumptions.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.” -Brené Brown

Caring about something so much that people question it does not have to be a source of shame. It can even be something to be proud of, for not everyone has something like that — something that really really matters.