Chapter 18 Learning Objectives

Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:

  • Describe when, and in what ways, care or concern matter.

Watch this video or scan the QR code to learn how you can show empathy in a relationship.

To some extent care and concern could be treated under feelings but they also have something to do with ethics and with how much people try to satisfy each other too.

Perhaps we should care equally about all people, or at least about all good or deserving people, or all potentially good people, but in fact, most people do not care about all others equally. They have particular people about whose happiness and or well-being they are concerned; people whose happiness or well-being they want to preserve, promote, and see preserved and promoted.

Sometimes, however, people are jealously protective about who promotes and preserves another’s welfare; they want to be the (only) ones to do it and to get credit for it.  If someone else does good for or satisfies a loved one, such people may be hurt or may question the motives or intentions of the benefactor, or they may feel their loved one’s affections are being alienated. Sometimes such feelings are well-founded, but often not.

For now, let me say about jealousy that it is unwarranted if its cause is not something that detracts from the original relationship, but it is reasonable if its cause is something that undeservedly detracts from the original relationship or promotes the well-being of the one partner only at the undeserved expense of the other. (I say undeserved because there are some cases, such as where one partner is abusing the other, that someone — whether friend, counselor, lover, or whatever — should intervene in the relationship to promote the victim’s well- being even at the expense of the jealous “lover.”) For example, I think one has a right to be angry or hurt if their partner stands them up or leaves them to be otherwise avoidably lonely or to do some undesirable task alone that was supposed to be worked on together while the partner has a good time with some third person or group of friends. It is not that the stood up person has a right to resent the happiness of the offending partner, but that he or she has a right to resent that it happened at his or her undeserved expense. More about jealousy later, however.

My main point about care and concern, is that they are, except in certain circumstances, no substitute for proper actions — actions that promote or preserve well-being and satisfaction, regardless of whether they are accompanied or brought about by care and concern or not. If one is ill or drowning, it would be better to be properly diagnosed or rescued by an uncaring computer or robot than to be in the presence of the most concerned person with no medical knowledge or swimming ability. Similarly, in a relationship; in general good intentions are insufficient when better or more satisfying actions are needed or desired. Just as attractions do not insure satisfying or good actions toward each other, neither does caring or being concerned just by themselves.

I have seen parents who are concerned about their children’s well-being but who, in their concern to keep the children happy, actually spoil their children and end up making them less happy and less well off than they would have been otherwise. They give them too much junk food for their health, do not force them to get enough sleep for their health and mental alertness, and do not teach them enough about how to behave properly to let them make and keep friends and make favorable impressions on others. This kind of parental concern for immediate gratification is a short-sighted concern that in the long run is almost as bad as no concern at all. Similarly some adults are so concerned about the immediate satisfaction or happiness of a loved one that they treat their loved ones in ways that are harmful in the long run — harmful for the loved one (as in serving them too much fatty foods just because they like the taste of them) or harmful for the relationship. For example, if one of the partners gives in to the unfair demands of another just to keep peace or to keep the other partner happy, the partner who gives in may be fostering or reinforcing immature behavior in the other and also may be preventing the relationship from becoming a more mature and more equally satisfying one. Care and concern (particularly when they are misdirected, but even when they are not) do not by themselves mean you will act correctly nor promote the well-being of your partner or improvement in your relationship.

One time while my wife and I were discussing installing some sort of wooden flooring in our home, I knew she was disappointed that it was too expensive for us to have it done. I tried to tease her out of her depressed mood by saying that I would do it myself to save money and just hope that it came out correctly and evenly put down. That got a rise out of her (my handiwork usually leaves more than a little to be desired) and she said we simply would have to wait until a time we could afford to have it done by a professional. I asked “Why? He probably wouldn’t hope as hard as I would!” That got the laugh out of her I had wanted — since obviously care, concern, and hope were not nearly so important in this case as was the skilled competence of someone who would do the job right, regardless of how much or how little he or she cared about it.

Now it is usually nice to have someone care about you or be concerned about your well-being.

And this, coupled with the right or satisfying actions then, is preferable (all other things being equal) to the same activity by people who are devoid of such feelings. Likewise, if no action can help, as in the case of a terminal illness or accident, it is generally nicer to have people around who care or are concerned even though everyone is powerless to help. But even then there are right and wrong ways to behave — for example, excessive hand wringing, crying, or cursing fate may not do the victim any emotional good and may bring her or him even further grief or agony.

Care and concern are certainly nice to have in relationships, but they are not so important, I don’t believe, as correct (good and/or satisfying) behavior. I have intentionally left out of the analysis that for A to love B, A must care about B’s well-being. First, it should be noted most people would probably not want to say that for A to love B, A actually has to benefit B, since one can love another and want to do and try to do what is right for the other without being successful in that attempt. A may not even know what would be good for B, let alone be able to bring it about if he or she did know.  But I believe that it is not even a necessary condition for A to (be correctly said to) love B that A even tries to satisfy or do good things for B. I will argue later, concerning Harry Stack Sullivan’s definition of love given in Lederer and Jackson’s Mirages of Marriage, that concern for another is not sufficient for there to be love, other than in some Christian or humanistic or humanitarian sense, if that. What I wish to explain here is that it is also not a necessary condition.

Certainly, it is psychologically normal that if one is attracted to another (and especially if one is satisfied by and knowingly benefitted by him or her) one will want to be good to them, satisfy them, and have them be attracted to you in return. This is simply to say on my terms that if one loves another, one will usually want to be loved in return. But this is not always the case. Even just considering attraction, one may perfectly well be content to be attracted to another without caring about whether attraction is felt in return or not.

One may also not want to do what is best or most pleasing for one’s partner; an unreasonably jealous lover is still a lover even though he or she may not want anyone else pleasing or helping his loved one, even if that is in the loved one’s overall best interest. (If the loved one prefers having the jealousy of such a partner to having help or satisfaction from a third person, then the partner’s jealously denying the love’s potential joy by the third party actually increases the love’s overall joy.  Some people like to have very jealous and over-protective mates; some do not especially appreciate such jealous behavior by their partner.) If a lover had to have his or her partner’s best interest in mind, an unreasonably jealous lover would be a contradiction in terms. So would perhaps even a reasonably jealous lover.

Of course, we could say this; and, of course, it would be easy to add as the fourth condition to the analysis of “A loves B” that “4) A in general wants to or tries to improve B’s well-being and B’s satisfaction.”

But I believe it does not belong in the analysis and would be added incorrectly because (1) I do not think all people require those who love them to care about their well-being or satisfaction, especially if they provide it for whatever reason, whether intentionally or caringly or not (as in the case of someone who loves for their mate to be jealous and over-protective even though the mate is not doing it for the loved one’s own good) (2) I think everyone should care about the well-being of others in general, so that not doing so shows more about what kind of person you are in general than whether you are a lover or person in love or not; (3) I think you can be attracted to another from afar, receive benefit from them, and receive joy from them — in short, love them from afar — without making any effort to have that love returned; that is, without trying to benefit or satisfy the one you love or without trying to have them become attracted to you (or even know you); you are the one loving, or in love, not them; (4) most importantly, insofar as you feel unloved or unhappy because you feel the other person does not care about your happiness or well-being (a feeling usually brought about, by the way, probably because he or she does not make you feel happy or well-off, whether intending to or not), then your happiness is diminished and therefore it is your love for them, not their love for you, that is diminished. It is diminished (and if diminished too far, extinguished) by either of two ways — either in causing your attraction to be diminished (or extinguished) or in causing that attraction to be less (or not at all) one of love, but more one of infatuation, sacrifice, masochism, or something else.

Whatever your attraction is for someone who harms you or makes you unhappy, it is not love. And any part of your attraction that is unjustified by the actions or character of your loved one is a part of attraction that has nothing to do with love. So if your attraction is diminished by continuous dissatisfaction or harm because your loved one does not care about you, you love your partner less, and if attraction is undiminished but you are dissatisfied or harmed because your partner does not care about you, then your attraction has that much less right to be thought of as totally an attraction of love. Insofar as your partner’s lack of care and concern (in spite of their being good for you and good to you) bothers you, you are the one who is less loving, not they.

(5) Also consider the following case, called to my attention as a protest to this position by Priscilla Eggleston and Carol Milner. They claim that for a person to treat their mate shabbily, even after they have been told that they are disappointing and hurting their mate, means that they are doing it intentionally and with no consideration for their mate’s feelings. “And that is not very loving behavior. How can they say they still love their mate when they treat him or her like dirt!” My response to this is (a) first you want to make sure the treatment really is bad treatment and not just unreasonably disappointing treatment. You don’t want to say someone has to prove their love by doing everything their mate wants, particularly if what their mate wants is unreasonable to demand — for example, “if you loved me you would quit playing tennis with your friends.” But assuming we are talking about unreasonable or bad, actually shabby, treatment. Then (b) there are still certain cases we could say A still could love B even though A treats B badly.  For example, if A has some pathological physical condition, such as a tumor, that causes A to act irrationally and reprehensibly toward B even though A honestly professes love (attraction, etc.) for B, we might want to say A cannot help how he or she acts but he or she really does love B.

Similarly, if A were an alcoholic who had not learned to cope with it; A’s alcoholism might be terribly painful to B, but it is not true that if A loved B, A would stop drinking. A’s drinking may have nothing at all to do with B and/or A’s feelings for B and the value and joy A receives from B. A friend of mine knows a couple where the man continually disparages his wife’s intelligence, even in front of other people. He has been told it hurts his wife’s feelings, but he is a rather sarcastic and cynical person in general, and he seems unable to stop this for any length of time; and he seems to do it naturally, and he also does it more or less about everybody else too.  Some people do all kinds of wrong things and act badly, sometimes intentionally toward  others, and I do not always understand why they do that. But I think it is often more a problem with their (moral) character (or sometimes with their physiology) than it is a problem with their feelings (or love) or than it is a sign that they do not have loving feelings or even concern for their mate. An alcoholic may feel terribly upset with how his behavior hurts his mate but he/she may not (be able to) remedy that behavior.

Likewise, a person who treats others badly may treat his or her mate badly, not because they do not love their mate, but because, for whatever reason, they do not behave properly toward people. (c) In some cases a person may have reasonable interests and strong urges that conflict with their mate’s reasonable desires. Claus von Bulow claimed that he and his wife fought, not over his mistresses, but over the kind of job he held. She wanted him, he said, to work 9 to 5 seven months a year so they could party with her friends and summer in Newport, etc., and he couldn’t get any sort of job (he felt comfortable with) that fit that description. Or if a person does not have the sexual interests his/her partner does, but does not want the partner having extra-marital sex, nor is the first willing to compromise somehow about sexually satisfying the partner with the stronger (or more frequent) sex drive, is the second any less loving if he/she discreetly cheats, even if it hurts the other’s feelings? In some cases, perhaps not.  I doubt you would want to argue that if A loved B more A would want sex more often, and if B loved A more, B would want sex less often. I would not want to argue that was necessarily or even usually true.

I don’t know why a person would treat someone they loved shabbily, but I suspect it is not always because they do not love them. But I also do not know why anyone would treat even strangers shabbily; love is not a prerequisite for good behavior or for civility. I see shabby treatment more as a (sometimes physiological problem, but often simply as a) character problem, or moral and moral character problem. It is not necessarily a sign of lack of love on A’s part. A may treat B like scum just because A is a scummy person. Or A may just be in a scummy mood and for some irrational reason takes such moods out on B (kicks the dog and abuses the wife and kids after frustration at the office or the unemployment line, etc.). Or A may be testing B’s love for her/him or may just be acting badly because “the devil is making him/her do it.” There are times one finds oneself saying things one does not want to say — knowing they are hurtful, and maybe even false, statements. One regrets it even before and while one is saying it, yet one says it anyway. “The devil makes you do it” is about the way it feels. (People also say things they know are stupid and that will make them look stupid — and they do not want to say these things, but they say them anyway.  Who knows why? I don’t.) People do all kinds of bad and stupid things they know better than to do and that consciously they don’t even want to do. Why? I don’t know, but I don’t believe lack of love has a whole lot to do with it generally. Even not loving someone would not justify nor explain treating them shabbily.

Finally, (6) It is possible that two people can be especially good and satisfying for each other because of their personality, character, interests, knowledge, skills, habits, desires, outlooks, etc. without either one especially trying to please the other or trying to benefit the other — at least no more so than they would try to please or benefit anyone else. This is, I think, what in fact does happen where people fall in love or are in love. It is not that there is some particular effort to please or benefit, though that may occur at times, but it is that satisfaction and good result because of the way each of you interact and respond naturally to the other. Each of you happens to need, want, appreciate, or is improved by what the other happens naturally or already to do, to have, or to offer. It is this mutual satisfaction and good that are important, rather than whether it was intentional or not, and rather than whether it occurs because you each try to make it occur or because you try harder to make it occur with each other than you would with anyone else. Insofar as my attraction for you is accompanied (or warranted) by your being good for me and satisfying or enjoyable to me, then that attraction is one of love for you. And insofar as I am good for you and satisfying for you and you are attracted to me, your attraction is love for me. And both are true whether either of us tries to satisfy and benefit the other to any particular extent out of concern and caring (or trying to any extent more than we would try to satisfy or benefit anyone else), or whether it just happens because we simply mesh in the right way and were lucky to meet.

Insofar as lovers and loved ones continue to satisfy and benefit each other and continue to be attracted to each other, they will justifiably be said to love each other, regardless of whether they are working at it for each other, for themselves (A might work to please B for A’s own advantage, say, in order to keep B’s love so that B will remain in the relationship), or whether they are not working at it at all but are just lucky to “mesh” or “fit” with each other naturally with no (unusual) work required.

Now insofar as one does not care at all about the other’s well-being and joy, one may not continue to provide or accomplish it; but in not providing or accomplishing it, it means the other loses love for them, not that they lose love for the other. Not caring about your mate’s well being or joy may cause lack of love — but toward you; it does not mean lack of love on your part toward them.

If I make you happy and benefit you and you are attracted to me, I can believe you feel love for me without also expecting or demanding that you seek my well-being or joy or my attraction toward you.  You may seek all these things, and generally, you would want to but not because of the definition of what love is. If anything, it is simply a psychological phenomenon that commonly accompanies love. Often one does want to please and benefit one that one likes — is attracted to — but one need not.

Now though I think care and concern for another’s well-being and satisfaction are not necessary conditions for love itself to exist, I do think part of what it is to be a good person is to at least take into consideration other people’s well-being and satisfaction. And this is particularly true in cases of commitment such as marriage, living together, being engaged, going steady, rearing children, etc. In making commitments, by placing ourselves in special relationships with others, we create and incur special obligations. Apart from some overriding exception or overriding circumstance, one owes one’s mate, one’s children, and sometimes one’s friends more than one owes a stranger. You owe people with whom you are interdependent in various ways, and especially those who have benefitted you (even more especially if you had then allowed them to have sacrificed for your benefit) at your request, more than you owe a stranger. And this is so whether there is love or not.

Being married to someone, being on a date with someone, being the parent of someone, even playing tennis with someone, puts special obligations (again, barring some special circumstances to the contrary) on one to act differently in certain cases from how one might be justified in acting toward a stranger. For example, at a dance it is polite to dance and spend time with your date rather than to ignore them. So to that extent, such relationships do require special actions or special considerations about ethical behavior which will often appear to involve special concern for the person whether they do or not. And since such relationships as marriage usually involve people in love, it appears that love requires special concern for others, when really it is the obligation or commitment to the specially incurred relationship that requires special considerations. Even a spouse who does not love their mate still has special ethical obligations to that mate (barring overriding circumstances) apart from how little other good or satisfaction there is left in the relationship. Even a date has a general obligation to take home the one they took out, regardless of how disappointing the occasion is.

Fulfillment of obligations does not require care and concern for those one is obligated to; nor does consideration of other people’s rights. One need not care about others in some special personal way when one is just considering and caring about how it is right to act — caring about what is the right thing to do.

As to the psychological connection between loving someone and wanting to please and benefit them, I think this is perhaps a general correlation though not a universal nor logically necessary one. I suspect it is more like the kind of general psychological correlations of romantic lovers usually wanting to have sex with each other, usually being happy around each other, grinning around each other, or giving gifts to each other at special occasions. Hence, thinking this is some essential correlation may cause one to feel unloved when one’s mate does not do one or all of these things. (People who do not pay much attention to the calendar might forget an anniversary, not because they do not remember the date of the anniversary, or because they are no longer in love, but because they do not even realize that date is upon them. Hence, “forgetting” an anniversary is not a sign of lack of love or of lack of caring.) Because there is a general psychological conjunction or correlation between romantic love and sexual desire, desire for proximity, grinning in each others’ company, or present-giving, people mistakenly sometimes think that such a conjunction is then universal or true by definition.

And furthermore, even when A loves B and is concerned for B’s well-being just because A loves B, I suspect that concern is a consequence of A’s love for B, not a part of it. Those who hold (I think incorrectly) that love is always accompanied by concern for the partner’s well- being, over and above any strictly ethical or humanistic concern, do not have to hold that this is part of the definition of love. In fact, they probably do not. They probably hold that such concern is a natural (psychological) outgrowth of loving another. But being a result, a consequence, or an outgrowth of a condition is not the same as being the condition or a part of its definition. Even if thunder always accompanied lightning, lightning is the flash; thunder is the sound that (sometimes) accompanies it. The day always follows night, and vice versa, but neither is part of the definition of the other.

Hence, even if it were true that there could not be love if there was not concern, it would not follow that concern was a part of love. It could be just a natural consequence of it. Even if lovers always remembered to give birthday presents to their loved ones, giving a birthday present would be a consequence of loving, not part of the definition of loving.

Finally, I think in the kinds of cases where one feels unloved because one’s mate would rather be at work, does not grin in your proximity, does not give presents, does not want to have sex, etc., there really is more an element of feeling unloving rather than unloved. One can feel unloving because one has been disappointed by one’s partner; but because the disappointment or dissatisfaction seems caused by the other person, one misreads being unloving as being unloved. This is perhaps like believing someone who hurts you (though it may be accidental) is angry with you because you are then angry with them. It is perhaps clearest in the case of a lover’s accidentally forgetting your birthday when they have been busy and are not particularly cognizant of dates generally anyway; they may love you very much but you feel they do not because you are disappointed and hurt and feel less loving toward them at the time.

In contrast, someone who always remembers your birthday with cards or presents, etc. may be just very polite and very efficient or very charming, or may be selfishly courting you without thereby really caring or being concerned about you.  In general, the fact that someone behaves correctly does not necessarily mean they have the best motives, and incorrect behavior does not necessarily show bad motives. As I will explain further in discussing ethics, motivation is not always easily identified by behavior. Feelings too are not always accurately discernible from outward appearance and behavior. People make all kinds of errors reading caring or uncaring feelings into other people’s external behavior. People take mistakes in work to mean lack of responsibility or conscientiousness; they may just be mistakes. People sometimes mistakenly think counselors and teachers who are simply conscientiously doing their jobs have special (possibly romantic) feelings for them.


Key Takeaways

  • Care and concern are less important normally than the effects of one’s behavior toward another person. Normally if one had to choose between caring people who are incompetent and competent people who uncaring, one would choose competence over caring.   There can be exceptions, but both love and ethics involve far more than just being caring.

Key Terms

  • Care and concern are actions that promote or preserve well-being and satisfaction of another, regardless of whether they are accompanied or brought about by care and concern or not.

Chapter Review Questions

  • Question: What trait is unwarranted if its cause is not something that detracts from the original relationship, but is reasonable if its cause is something that undeservedly detracts from the original relationship or promotes the well-being of the one partner only at the undeserved expense of the other?
  • Question: Does meeting obligations require care and concern for people? Does caring and being concerned about other people mean you will be good for them or meet your obligations to them?


Chapter 18 Care and Concern Copyright © 2017 by jhill5 and Richard Garlikov. All Rights Reserved.

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