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Posted by Philip on 31 January 2012, 12:38 pm in , , ,

Who cares about caring?

"Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money," blogs business entrepreneur Seth Godin. "Often it's the CEO or the manager who sets a standard of caring about the details. Even better is a culture where everyone cares, and where each person reinforces that horizontally throughout the team."

Of course Godin is talking about caring in a business sense, saying that over time it will attract more customers, more business, more profit.

But what happens to caring in Government agencies, non-profits, even educational institutions, that are oversubscribed and underfunded, and therefore no incentive exists to attract new or repeat custom? Where, in fact, the opposite incentive prevails and the ideal is to decrease demand?

In what is often known as the "caring profession", I'm seeing caring going out the window.

I'm not saying it's deliberate. But rather than being profitable like it is in business, caring comes at a cost to Government and non-profit agencies. The cost is extra demand with no extra resources, extra work with no extra staff, extra responsibility with no extra appreciation.

Moreover, I think, sometimes the problems with which people are dealing seem too big to care too much about. Child abuse, homelessness, disability support, alcohol and drug abuse, increasing demand on services as we keep more babies and accident survivors alive. It's easy to think, "If I care too much about these things, how do I reconcile how little I can do to solve them?"

I've experienced and witnessed this "care fatigue", let's call it (and acknowledge its similarity but difference to compassion fatigue) several times recently: Housing New Zealand staff not contacting me back about my abusive neighbour; ACC declining more and more claims; the Ministry of Health prosecuting parents for using allocated funding to provide themselves the best support for their disabled children.

It seems to me Government and non-profit sectors are fast developing a culture where people couldn't care less.

This "not caring" may make things better in the short term. It may save a 30 second phone call, reduce overspending by 1% or less, or shift the blame of poor policy from a bureaucrat to a struggling family. 

Over time, however, it will hurt the people who don't care. It will strip them of their humanity. Shame will creep up and rob them of empathy. Disconnection will isolate them.

So when you realise you maybe couldn't care less, consider that it may be time to care just a little bit more. It won't solve the big problems, but it will make a huge difference to that person for whom someone caring enough to call back is the only thing that matters.