To Care or Not To Care? That is the Real Question.

In 1979, I was hired by Sister M. Giovanni SSND of the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP).  This was an alternative high school for kids who had been kicked out of the public school system.  I had gone back to school in 1971 after four years in the military and decided to get a teaching degree in Health Education.  I had just barely finished High School in 1964 and joined the Air Force in September of 64.  I had applied to a few colleges at the end of high school but due to my poor grades and even poorer conduct record, I did not even get rejection notices.  Thus, liking the Air Force uniform better than the Army or Navy uniforms, I joined the Air Force, hoping to see the world, kill some commies and “meet” a lot of interesting women.  I did not get much of the first two agendas but I did prove more successful at the third one.  Lots more successful than I had been in high school!  Was it the uniform or that I was coming from a “strange” land?

Upon leaving the military, much more disillusioned than when I had entered, I worked an assortment of odd jobs for three years until finally my first wife convinced me to go to college. She evidently believed in me more than I believed in myself or was tired of my complaining about all the stupid assholes I was working for.  Going to college might sound easy but with my abysmal high school record, getting in was easier said than done.  Fortunately, a kindly guidance counselor at my old high school said he would tell anyone requesting my records that they had been lost.  He opined that admissions people seeing my school records would not think I was anything less than “correctional” material.  In fact, I had been arrested a few times before turning 18 but most of this was not valid any longer since they were juvenile records.

Five years later, 1976, I emerged from Rhode Island College with a degree in Health Education.  After spending a year as a substitute teacher, I lost most of my desire to teach.  With the GI Bill being extended, I decided to enroll in a Master’s Degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Counseling Psychology.  Talk about the old adage of psych majors being screwed up.  I needed more counseling than any potential clients.  I started sending out applications for a job in counseling and received a letter from Sister M. Giovanni SSND that she was interested in my application.

I called Sister G (as she was affectionately known to one and all) and set-up an interview with her.  I was shocked and surprised when I found out that she was looking for a “teacher.” I explained that I was not interested in teaching but was interested in counseling.  Sister G. replied “Don’t worry; you will get lots of practice counseling with the students we have at GAP.”  I then said “Look Sister G. I am not a Catholic, I am an Atheist.”  She looked very serious at me and said: “I don’t care what your political or spiritual beliefs are as long as you are a good teacher.”  I was hooked.  I agreed to teach at GAP and stayed there for one year.

It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my life.  GAP teachers, volunteers, parents and students were all unique and dedicated. Maybe not all dedicated to learning but all dedicated to getting more out of life.  One of the best teachers was the art teacher named Sister Anna Louise Wilson.  She was a good teacher, devoted to her profession and devoted to her students.  One day after I had decided to leave, I took a short walk with Sister Anna.  I never quite felt that I had the impact or influence on the student’s lives that I would have liked to have.  I knew that Sister Anna did and I admired her for it.  I asked her “What does it take to really make a difference in their lives?”  She replied “you have to care.”

I thought about her comment then and I realized that I did not care.  I cared about the subjects I was teaching.  I cared about being professional.  I cared about continuous learning and I cared about mastering the craft of an educator.   What I did not care about was what happened to my students after they left school.  As far as I was concerned, that was their problem.  My task was to give them the knowledge, skills and abilities to fit in with a changing complex workplace.  Many years went by and countless times I have reflected on Sister Anna’s comment about caring.  I finally understand its relevance and importance.

Who makes a difference in anyone’s life? Do you care about the Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners or 20 greatest geniuses the world has ever known?  How many of them can you name?  But the people that cared about you are the ones you remember.  They are the ones who made a true difference in your life.  Caring is perhaps the most underrated and undervalued trait in the world.  Whether in politics, education or the workplace, the people that care are the ones that truly make a difference.  The concept is so important, you would think we would have academies of caring or schools where caring could be taught.  What does it mean to care?  Why care? What is caring?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991);

When you care about something, you are taking a risk.  A risk that any expectations you have will not be returned.  A risk that the subject of your caring may not reciprocate.  A risk that your caring will result in disappointment or worse.  The subject of your caring is independent of your caring.  A hard reality is that caring opens the care giver to pain.  We would rather minimize the potential pains in our lives and so we develop some strict rules about whom we are willing to care for and when we are willing to care.  For instance, how often have you heard the phrase used “I couldn’t care less?”  Many of us have been burned once too often by “caring” and so we shrink our envelopes of caring until we have little potential to care.  I never saw a reason to care about my students because I was not really willing to risk the effort.  Even if I had realized that I needed to be more caring to make a difference in their lives, my self-protection envelope would have prevented me from trying.

Now I am older, sadder and perhaps wiser, or at least wise enough to understand the need for caring.  Whether in a nursing home, school, hospital or at work, caring is one of the most desired attributes we would like to obtain for ourselves.  The question is “how can we get more caring in this world, if we are not willing to give it?”  Everyone wants caring in their lives but we are much less prone to offer it to others.  The parable of the Good Samaritan comes repeatedly to my mind.

Time for Questions:

Who is our neighbor?  Who do we care about?  Do we only care about people who are just like us or do we care about those who belong to a different social class or religion or ethnic group or even another country?  Do we only care about our relatives and friends or do we extend our caring to strangers or others in need?  How do we develop more caring in our neighborhood and in our world?

Life is just beginning

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fred Broussard
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 13:47:33

    John,
    Your story and comments on caring deserve wide circulation in today’s world. Consider submitting it to Readers Digest. You’ve experienced much in life and have the communication skills to influence the thinking of others.
    As with many devoted Christians, those Sisters probably understood “love” better than the rest of society. i relate “caring” to following “love” in a Godly sense. I also think there is a process to caring that is often overlooked. The Sister you related to most seemed to understand that Kipling’s “how” (of caring) trumped his “what”. Jesus, Mary and Martha come to mind. Caring and love deserve much more consideration in the world today. Love with genuine caring as and output will open our minds to systems thinking and move us above the fray of name calling, scapegoating, and blaming others that seems to dominate humans behaviors today.
    The piece you’ve created can awaken readers to what’s missing in their lives as well as what’s needed to resolve most of societies problems. Please do all you can to share it with humanity. What can I do to help? Is it possible for me to share it with friends on Facebook?
    Thanks, John. Thanks. It’s 6:45am here in Brenda, Arizona and you’ve given my mind a good beginning for this day.
    Fred

    Reply

  2. johnpersico
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 14:32:44

    Thanks Fred. I appreciate any help with circulating my blog. Facebook, twitter etc. Thanks for your wonderful comment. I agree they did know much about caring that I had not yet learned. I am sending this to a list that I have created which includes about 500 people. I suppose if I was a better blogger or marketer it would go out to more, but I don’t want to pay for any of these “marketing” services. I figure I will let word of mouth spread it and let what will happen take its natural course. Hope you are enjoying the Arizona weather.

    Reply

  3. Martina Broussard
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 14:50:03

    Thanks Fred, for posting this article on your Facebook timeline.
    As a Social Studies teacher I am moved and humbled by Dr. Persico’s honesty and insight.
    Thank you Dr. Persico, for writing such a thought provoking piece. I will follow your blog and share this story on my timeline as well.
    Martina Broussard

    Reply

  4. JEANINE
    Nov 10, 2017 @ 10:48:23

    Great blog. I loved the words Sister G gave you as well as the quote by Geisel. I would agree that caring leaves us open for pain, but it is the price we pay. When we truly care for another person, we feel their pain as well.

    Reply

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