Nodding's - Caring

While first reading Nel Nodding’s Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, I asked why is the notion of caring being broken down and picked apart in the first place? At a high level, I felt we either care about something or someone and that is all we really need to be concerned about; that we know our level of caring and that we are ok with it.

As I thought about it more, I started asking questions about how and why we care about things or people. Specifically, I started thinking about the effect that the one caring has on the one cared-for. Based on my experience in relation to caring about people, I often think I am doing well within my duty as the caregiver by helping someone in some way that I believe is right and is based on what I know about that person or the situation.

There is an alternative to this view that I have. As Noddings stated, "Apprehending the other’s reality, feeling what he feels as nearly as possible, is the essential part of caring from the view of the one-caring," (16). Whether it is a workplace situation or a personal situation that you care for someone I question how much you can put yourself into one’s reality. How can you be insightful about another’s situation that you care for? Often times, I don’t think we put ourselves in another’s shoes to really see their perspective, their needs, or their wants from the caring relationship. As the one caring you may think you are doing a good job and are being moral to the relationship but you may be missing their needs entirely. I do believe this is very important in a leader-follower relationship, especially in the workplace. How do you understand and help your colleagues without trying to help based on what you think is right?

You can answer to any of the questions or statements above on this theory of being insightful and ethical in this relationship or give examples on how you manage caring in your relationships – personal or professional.


I do believe this is very important in a leader-follower relationship, especially in the workplace. How do you understand and help your colleagues without trying to help based on what you think is right?

I very much agree. As I've grown older, I've approached management as more of a double sided coin - not just about organizational efficiency "managing tasks" but also about the fact that you are managing people. You can be the most efficient manager in the world from a Cost of Goods standpoint, but if you ignore the intrapersonal part, you are ignoring a bit part of your job. (imo.)

On another note - I'm interested in how folks processed this part: "In particular, it is well known that many women- perhaps most women - do not approach moral problems as problems of principle, reasoning, and judgment.

Nodding cites Sartre and several other existential philosophers but I'm not quite sure on what evidence he basis this particular claim. Maybe I missed something - does anybody have an insight or reaction to this?

How do you understand and help your colleagues without trying to help based on what you think is right?

I really appreciate your insight regarding this reading. I also found myself wondering, why is this author spending so much time dissecting the concept of caring? Frankly, I am still trying to wrap my head around the reading. For me, the “aha? moment of the reading started on page 14 when the author related to caring in human terms versus academic: “To be touched, to have aroused in me something that will disturb my own ethical reality, I must see the other’s reality as a possibility for my own.?

You and I can relate to “disturb my own reality? if we work in public affairs - whether non-profit or government – because this is what drives our passion. This essentially describes the concept of “empathy?.

However, there is danger in this! As a grant manager for a public health agency, I use community assessment and health data to determine population need and, thus, program/funding priorities. Here is an example: assessments indicate there is a high incidence of diabetes in the Latino population in our county. As an individual, I am passionate about this issue because a number of my family members have diabetes. As a professional, I am experienced in developing population-based community outreach programs to reduce the incidence of diabetes.

I “care? because diabetes disturbs my own personal reality! I fear other’s reality might someday be my own! Plus, I have experience in program development. It would make sense for me to develop this outreach program, right? Wrong! Transposing our own reality and fears onto another subset of population is a critical mistake! Developing an outreach program for the Latino population based on best practices for the population as a whole, would be ineffective. As public employees, we too often trade program effectiveness (what works) for program efficiency (what costs less and takes less time) because of our own reality and passion.

With that said, when I am really passionate about an issue, I ask myself the critical question, “Am I the right person to lead this project?? I am usually surprised by the answer!

"How do you understand and help your colleagues without trying to help based on what you think is right?"

We all are guilty of seeing the world through our own filters. This is not necessarily wrong, if we can recognize it, acknowledge it and attempt to operate differently. Questioning our own motivation and willingness to learn from every situation is critical. Caring and being empathetic is necessary in our human interactions. But if our actions are based on leading people to do what we want them to, or what we believe is in their best interest, we are making a dangerous mistake. I believe you can care about someone and also understand that they are going to make their own decisions and lead their own lives. As a parent I want to keep my children safe from every harm and heartache, but that is just not reasonable. In my own life I have learned crucial life lessons by living through pain and heartache. As a former social worker, my most difficult “cases? involved my own misguided attempts at helping a client set goals that I saw as the right ones. That is not caring. And is detrimental to relationship building. The most successful client stories I have involve those who I supported regardless of their current situation or choices –knowing full well that caring about someone is never about the one-caring, but is always about the one cared for.

I too had to wrap my head around the meaning of caring. I didn't know caring and cared for could be so dissected as much as it is in Noddings' book. My definition of caring: someone or something that pulls on my heartstrings. When I feel that tug than the caring begins. That tug has guided me toward many paths in life, usually the correct paths.

Here is my answer to this question,

"How do you understand and help your colleagues without trying to help based on what you think is right?"

Too often I place myself in the other person's shoes when coming up with a solution for their problem, but that is not always the best way to find the solution. One would think that is the best way to "fix" the problem, but just because I have an idea that I think may work for them, doesn't mean that it is the solution. I base the solution on problems I encountered in my life experiences and outcomes of my situations, which are entirely different from that of someone elses.

Maybe a better way to find solutions is to simply ask the person various questions about their problem. How often has this scenario happened to you: A person discusses a problem with you and rather than chiming in you allow the person to talk. After a while you begin asking a few questions and before you know it the person has already come up with a solution? This happens to me many times since I began teaching. The students will express their concern about not knowing a particular concept. I listen to their problem, and then I ask a few questions and before too long the students have already figured out the problem. This means of problem solving seems very elementary, but often times it is that simple.

This reading reminded me in many ways of how many times people try to place themselves in another's shoes when actually what they need to do is to feel what it is to be the ther person. I have had many experiences where someone will place themselves in my position but with their own past and current realities in mind not mine. This doesn't do much for me in trying to help me solve a problem.

I agree that asking questions or finding more out about another person's current situation is a better method. It doesn't work real well to visually plop myself into someone else's life and tell them what I would do. It is far better to get to know what is important to the other person, what motivates them, what skills they possess, and to understand what roadblocks they face before trying to "help them" through anything.

After spending the weekend with my 17-year old brother who has been struggling to find motivation and reason to obey his parents, do his schoolwork, and do right in general, I responded to this article with a different type of inquisition: What makes us not care? I have been trying to help my brother see the value in a variety of things lately (school, behaving, not breaking the law, attending church/being spiritual) only to have him respond with the proverbial and predictable “I don’t care.? I realize that the not-caring mantra is fairly typical to disgruntled, conflicted teens, yet I still can’t seem to resolve the issue with non-caring in my mind. Reading this article was interesting because of the criteria it attempts to define criteria to determine whether or not A, B, or C actually cares. I was particularly interested in figuring out if this could help me determine whether or not my brother cares, or if he just claims to not care.

Noddings says that “we expect some action from one who claims to care, even though action is not all we expect? (p. 10). If action is a big part of caring, then I think it makes for an easier starting point in determining if true care indeed exists. The situation Noddings describes on p. 15 about helping a poor math student to do better at math by teaching the student to love math reminded me of the situation with my brother. I think one of the main frustration’s of mine and my family’s is that my brother just doesn’t seem to see things the way we did when we were his age, and we then proceed to make him see it this way. Going back to Noddings’s quote “Apprehending the other’s reality, feeling what he feels as nearly as possible, is the essential part of caring from the view of the one-caring,? this is where I could see the connection between my brother’s apparent choice to not care and my own longing to try to care/help him. I also really enjoyed Noddings’s discussion about ‘the engrossment and motivation displacement of caring.’

Immediately prior to reading this article, I read the editorials in the Sunday Pioneer Press. I must tell you that I rarely read them, so it is ironic that two of them seemed to relate specifically to the reading on caring.

One was written by the directors of Lutheran Social Service and Catholic Charities. These two organizations represent two of the dominent nonprofit charitable service providers in the area. They remind us that they are on the front line and know what works and what recipients of their services need. They recognize the difficult decisions that the legislature and law makers have, yet also point out that these people might not be in the best position to make some of those decisions because of how far away they are from the recipients.

Immediately to the left of this column is one from the director of the St. Paul libraries. Her concern is the same: the people who are making decisions about what to cut from the budget don't really understand the needs of the people who use their services and may cut exactly those services that are most needed.

So what does this have to do with caring? Nodding points out several challenges and conflicts inherent with caring. "We are sometimes thrown into conflict over what the cared-for wants and what we think would be best for him." (24) Our elected officials must make decisions based on what they think is best for their constituents. The editorials are highlighting the conflict that exists by implying that the decision-makers don't really know what is best for certain constituent groups.

Nodding further goes on to observe that as caring moves from singular caring to collective caring, it moves from the nonrational and subjective to the rational and objective (25). While this is necessary, it often leads to abstract problem-solving as opposed to an emphasis on the ones being cared for.

The reason that I think that this article was chosen is because it highlights one of the big challenges of being a leader, whether in a public or private sector organization, in a one-on-one situation or globally. Good leaders do want to care and do what's best for their people, but can unwittingly adopt a problem-solving approach that forgets the original engrossment and motivation. Nodding suggests that ever-vigilance (my words) to the necessary push-pull of the rational-objective and the nonrational-subjective is essential.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs