“Darling, I had a really rough day, can we spend some time together?”
“Susan, are you sure you don’t need help to carry those books?”
“John it doesn’t feel right to me that you’re carrying all the weight on your shoulders.”
“Mum you seem busy, we can set the table up for tonight if you want.”
If you’re trying to spot the similarities within the sentences, it shouldn’t be hard to witness one of the most fundamental elements which shape our identity as human beings: care.
Humans are by definition social animals and for this reason, they are in the never-ending search for connections. Loneliness doesn’t belong to us. Having strong and tight relationships make our lives meaningful and are the gauges of our happiness. But what do the most important social relations we seek to create have in common?
Carol Gilligan, an American feminist ethicist and psychologist, wrote in 1982 a book titled “In A Different Voice”, in which she introduced a new conception of morality to the world. Precedent moral theories tried to establish general dogmas to regulate our behavior and equip us with a set of values to decide in the right way. Gilligan saw morality in a different way.
She thought that our relationships are based on a different degree of dependence and interdependence within another. When we are toddlers, we are in an immense need of help, both physical and sentimental, and our mothers are there to get us through our childhood and in longer terms, life in general. We reach out to friends because we need a partner in crime because we feel the need of being understood by someone who goes through our same experiences: happiness, sadness, love, detachment. But most of all we need someone to care for us, someone’s shoulder to cry on in our deepest moments of darkness and someone to laugh with when the coin toss is in our favor. Being lovers means to dedicate our entire life to the emotional and physical wellbeing of the other person, to enhance the most perfect and strongest form of relationship.
Gilligan also reports that individuals deserve consideration in proportion to their vulnerability. We need to be attentive to recognise others’ needs and respond to them.
So the philosopher starts with the premise that everybody is vulnerable.
Everybody has a weak spot. Everybody is fragile in some ways.
It could be our physical appearance, the way we speak, our passion for books, our relationship with our parents, our shyness, our fear of being alone. The more we seem unmoved and undaunted, the more we’re suffering inside, trying to hide our deepest insecurities in vain. That’s why we need someone by our side, who can raise our spirits when we’re down.
But, what about those people who’s vulnerabilities and fragilities are greater? What about those people whose fate is destined to end in the oblivion of our minds? What about those people who don’t interact like we do, those people who are “too different” to be our friends, our classmates, our lovers?
I’m talking about people affected by serious disabilities, people sometimes considered nonexistent, nothing, nada by our negligent careless consumerist society, too often focused on the new pair of shoes and the latest model of iPhone, in which the greatest reward isn’t to be someone, but to appear to be.
In our contemporary free trade capitalist society, in which our main purpose in life has become to find a socially useless but remunerative job, we often forget about the latest in this “Struggle of Existence” as Darwin would define it. We often forget about the most important values that should govern a mature 21st-century society like ours and our daily life.
Luckily not everybody forgets.
The NGO “CasaOz” is an organisation based in the Italian city of Turin, founded in 2005 by a group of families who wanted to create a safe refuge for every family who had a kid affected by some serious illnesses. It provides a physical place in which families who don’t live in the city of Turin, but are benefitting from the medical treatments in the children dedicated hospital “Regina Margherita”, can stay overnight. Furthermore, the structure organises throughout the entire duration of the year activities to host and entertain kids with disabilities, kids of families of refugees and more in general kids of a family whose socio-economic situation isn’t one of the greatest.
Basically “CasaOz” is a physical and emotional place which cares for people not everybody cares about.
A really interesting characteristic of this organisation, which I discovered when I enrolled in two weeks of voluntary work as an entertainer at the summer camps they organise, is the name itself. “CasaOz” literally means “The house of Oz”, referencing the famous novel “The Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum. The staff members told me that the story of Dorothy, who undertakes a fairy-tale journey through unknown lands, meeting mysterious animals and characters represent a metaphor for the journey of a kid affected by illness.
In these two weeks of full-hearted service, I learned how to interact with children with disabilities and in what ways I could have been useful in helping them. I learnt that our interactions, our connections happen in the same way we connect to our friends and relatives. No matter how different we are we all need affection, happiness, and care.
Most of all I experienced how rewarding and accomplishing it could be to be a giver and not always a receiver as most of the time we come to be in our lives.
On my way home after a full day of service, I felt joy and an immense sense of fulfillment derived from the simple act of helping someone else.
I’m not a pessimist. I’m confident that through our actions, we’ll be able to change our society and more, in general, the world in which we live.
We just need to care a little bit more about a little Dorothy who lost her way.