Become a Caretaker, not a Dependent

Why it is really in your best interest to take care of yourself and others.

In the human world — where a large part of activities are based on trades — our collective well-being often hinges upon one regularly reaching out to another.

For example, when we're in trouble, we might find ourselves on the receiving end of a good deed, while in other cases, we can also be the one initiating the deed.

On the surface, it might seem that those who're doing the giving are clearly on the losing end of the bargain, but the fact is, it is actually much more rewarding to give than it is to receive.

In fact, this is a theme that will become increasingly apparent — as we dwell into the nature of caretaking and the nature of being taken care of.

Caretaker vs. Dependent

If you are like most of us, you have people in your life who are important to you. Most likely, they've done a lot of something to deserve your trust and gratitude. For example:

  • They could be your parents, who provide you with nourishment and financial support.
  • They could be your children, who provide you with joy and companionship.
  • They could be your friends, who provide you with personal advice and insight. 
  • They could be your heroes, who provide you with vision and hope.

Whoever they are, these people fall into the category of caretakers, that is:

Someone who regularly takes care of a place, a thing, or a person.

And then, there's also the dependents on the other side of the spectrum. For all intents and purposes, these are individuals who regularly depend on others to get their needs met — whether it's physical, emotional, financial or spiritual.

Under these broad definitions, we can see that in our society, both caretakers and dependents can appear under different roles and forms. For example:

  • In the context of senior care, nurses could be the caretakers and seniors could be the dependents.
  • In the context of parenting, parents could be the caretakers and children could be the dependents. 
  • In the context of art, artists could be the caretakers and fans could be the dependents (even though the reverse could also be true).
  • In the context of romance, one party could assume the role of an emotional caretaker, while the other the dependent.

Of course, these attributes are by no means fixed, and it's also very common for one to assume the role of a caretaker in one area and while being a dependent in another.

Being A Caretaker

So, what is it actually like to be a caretaker? And what are the benefits — if any — to actually being one?

For one, a person usually don't become a caretaker from day one, not to mention that the benefits are usually the last thing they have in mind. If anything, they often only embark on that role for some deeply-rooted psychological reasons such as:

  • Wanting to be in a position to help out those who they hold dear to heart
  • Wanting to follow similar people who've left indelible mark in their life
  • Wanting to be able to contribute to a worthy cause
  • Wanting to use caretaking as a proxy for self-improvement

The interesting thing is, selectively taking care of others is not just altruistic, but highly sell-fulfilling as well. After all, humans for the most part are hard-wired to derive happiness from reciprocation, and this is a beautiful thing.

Moreover, your desire to assist those who you hold dearly can prompt you to develop valuable skills that you might not have developed otherwise. These can include, for instance:

  • Earning more income
  • Learning to cook
  • Developing caregiving skills
  • Providing emotional support

If anything, by taking care of others, you'll also feel stronger, more confident and more reliable. You'll become a producer — a productive member of the society — rather than a mindless consumer who has no input of their own.

💡 Pathological Caretaking

Of course, here we're not talking about the more pathological forms of caretaking (as in some romantic or domestic relationships), where one is compelled to help out to maintain their emotional stability or control of others, leading to either codependency or exploitation.

Being a Dependent

If you're like most people, there are times where you need to regularly depend on others to keep things afloat. This can happen for instance if:

  • You're still young and learning the rope to stand up on your own.
  • You got caught in an emergency or a change of trend, which puts you in great financial trouble.
  • You accidentally lose someone important to you, which brings you great emotional distress.
  • Your body is in one way or another preventing you from living independently.

And if you have a similar experience to the ones above, you'd know how it feels like to be a dependent to someone else: you feel grateful, because that someone allows you to stay afloat, and guilty, because you're unfairly taking advantage of their resources.

In fact, it might even seem that the more you're being helped, the more you realize that it cannot continue: you might feel angry, you might feel helpless, it might betray your sense of justice, or you might end up saying something like this:

Shouldn't I be the one doing the helping, instead of the one being helped?

But then, there is also the chance that none of that rings any bell to you. Maybe you feel that others are responsible for your misfortune, or maybe you're simply too used to being helped. Either way, there's neither guilt or gratitude coming from you.

Convergence Towards Caretaking

So far, we've seen how caretakers and dependents both have their advantages and disadvantages. For simplicity, here's a visual rundown of the pros and cons from different angles:

Caretaker

  • Physical: Regular loss of short-term resources
  • Cognitive: Acquisition or reinforcement of resource-acquisition skills
  • Emotional: More fulfillment, satisfaction, pride and confidence

Dependent

  • Physical: Regular gain of short-term resources (food, physical care, money, emotional support)
  • Cognitive: No acquisition of resource-acquisition skills
  • Emotional: Gratitude, guilt, helplessness, discomfort

In particular, since caretakers derive both skills and satisfaction from their work while dependents don't, this shows that the world is indeed structured in such a way that encourages taking care of others as a way of taking care of oneself.

Moreover, since caretaking is itself a positive feedback loop and humans are hard-wired to believe in fairness, one can expect caretakers to inspire more caretakers, and dependents to convert to caretakers out of both positive and negative pressures.

But then, there's no need to sit back and wait patiently for nature to take its course. In fact, taking care of others is a decision that can be made at any moment — even now.

To do so, all you have to do is to look at the areas in your life where you are dependent on others, and take the bull by the horns:

  • Instead of depending on others financially, be a financial provider to others.
  • Instead of relying on your relatives for food, learn to cook for them.
  • Instead of relying on your significant other for emotional support, be the emotional support to him or her.
  • Instead of feeling sorry for your physical frailty, learn to run again and show up for others.

While doing so, you can also try to identify the beings you want to protect — and the things you need to do to protect them. This will allow you extending your effort from your inner circle to the larger world, and which can include, for example:

  • Hanging out with your grandparents
  • Helping out marginalized women

So whenever you're in doubt, choose self-sufficiency over external reliance, and whenever someone deserves help, choose caretaking as a way to improve yourself.

One day, when the world is composed of a majority of caretakers, it will become stronger and more resilient. And when that happens, less unnecessary suffering will ensue.

But until then, the world needs you to stand up for yourself and others, to become someone who can take care of others — instead of someone who's being taken care of.

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