Who Cares: When No One Does?

Brazilian Author of the Alchemist Paul Coelho shared a post on his blog about a list of things he’s learnt which have been attributed to him even though he did not write them called I have learned. The post lists 24 life lessons which gave me pause after I read them. I have since decided to reflect on each one of them for the next six months in my blog to see if these “universal truths” resonate with me or if I have any lessons of my own I can share from them. The Second one is:

I’ve learned that no matter how much I care, some people just don’t care back;

I have struggled to find something to say about this one because it relates to expectations.
Basically expecting people to care about the same things you care about at the time that you care about them too and being disappointed when they don’t.

This can be difficult to accept because when we are part of a community, an organization, a group, a cause or even friendships we sometimes make ourselves believe that we’re all in these groupings for the same reasons, motivated by the same desires. This is an issue about values which are not always immediately apparent when you first meet someone or get involved in a cause.

I will make an example with a friend I once had. He was a mixed race Fulbright student from Amherst University who introduced me to James Baldwin. After reading his seminal work; The Fire Next Time (1963) a book which he said was his bible, I decided that I liked him and his politics very much. In fact he even had a poem about how he was a descendent of all the marginalized races in the Americas which I thought was cool.

From time to time he would call me up to hang-out after he’d had his fill of white South African culture or I would hear him speak with other black-men and former comrades about the things white people say when there are no “black” people around. He could pass as white or black. One of his comrades even wrote about those experiences in a 2006 book called The Only Black At A Dinner Party.

For this and many other reasons I considered him an alley, a true friend for many years until I was on his turf, at his house in New York when I realized that we were fundamentally different. He came from a different class.

He cared more about his status, access to wealth and resources than he did about injustice or discrimination against black people. While he could not escape his black heritage since his father is black, his main motivation in life was less about racial justice and more about upward mobility and influence. He would sooner loose me (a black, African woman) as a friend than loose his standing in society.

So if fighting for the human rights of black people by voting for Obama for example or Obamacare puts him in line with the dominant class that has power and resources – he will fight for those rights to be affirmed because it is a convenient, popular, cool thing to do and he looses nothing from being a part of it. His ability to access and occupy positions of power in society are accelerated through his activism and not diminished by it.

I discovered this the hard way. Because all along while he was in South Africa I thought we cared about the same things, but we did not. Our battles were different. He had options, I didn’t.

Does this mean that my friend didn’t care about what I cared about? No it doesn’t, it means that he just cared a little less about it than I did.

He cared, but his care was conditional; he cared about our friendship for as long as his association with me did not jeopardise his status and access to resources in his own personal life. As soon as my presence in his life became a threat to that ideal goal, he showed me the door in order to preserve his reputation as an ‘upright’ man. As did many other people I considered friends in my life after him. I don’t blame him or them for that. His social justice politics changed and adapted according to the circumstances.

I think it is true that no matter how much you care about a cause or someone sometimes people simply don’t care as much about the same things.

As I did in the last blog on how you cannot make anyone love you, I will end this one with slight alteration again.

And it’s this: I have learned that no matter how much you care, some people just care about themselves more. And until you know what motivates people, it’s better for you to also do the same. Just care about what you care about period. People are not interested in anything that does not immediately serve their interest.

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