“The Value of Caring”

Rev. Julie Kain

Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola

Many people may be familiar with author Riane Eisler from her controversial and international best-selling classic The Chalice and The Blade which came out in 1987. Last summer Eisler spoke to UU’s at our annual General Assembly in Portland, Oregon about her newest book The Real Wealth of Nations.

Eisler fled her native Vienna, Austria from the Nazis first living in the slums of Havana and then later in the United States. Eisler has been preoccupied throughout her life’s work as a social scientist, attorney and social activist with this question: “Why, when humans have such a great capacity for caring, consciousness and creativity, has our world seen so much cruelty, insensitivity and destructiveness?”

In 2004, Eisler was invited by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation to participate in a forum on the future of economics. The conversation there started with a critique of dominant economic analysis that is known as “neoclassical” based largely on the modern capitalist theory of Adam Smith who wrote the “bible” of capitalist theory in 1776, that we know as The Wealth of Nations.

Smith was born in Scotland and developed an optimistic vision of the future based on the central belief that although people are inherently selfish, this selfishness could work for the common good if the market was left alone to regulate production and commerce without governmental interference. He believed the forces of the market would counter selfishness through competition. He used a familiar phrase “the invisible hand of the market” to promote the idea that competition would lead to higher living standards.

The critique is our current economic models of capitalism, socialism and communism, have not been able to successfully address the mounting global problems of poverty, overpopulation and environmental degradation. Instead of providing higher living standards for everyone, free market capitalism has helped to concentrate wealth in a small percentage of the population. These economic systems have proven to be dysfunctional in many ways. Eisler is among social theorists who believe strongly that we need a Caring Revolution as an antidote to our high-tech mentality that is still guided by values of conquest, exploitation and domination.

Eisler asks us to look at our beliefs about human nature. Then she encourages us to help rethink and remake the economic systems we have created.

Growing our awareness of a pervasive economic double standard is an important step in this direction.

For instance, we know about mainstream economic indicator tools such as the GNP and the gross domestic product. These are tools that are supposed to tell us how well we are doing economically by looking at our overall productivity. But a huge part of every nation’s economic productivity is not recorded in these indicator tools such as how the basics of food, health care, and education are distributed – much of what is considered the “housework” of caring for the young, the sick and the elderly, or the extensive contributions of volunteers, much of which is supplied by women. The real wealth of nations should not be the amassing of assets by a few but rather the human potential of the many.

The United Nations Human Development Report publishes that the value of women’s unpaid work is estimated at $11 trillion each year. The report suggested that “if national statistics fully reflect the ‘invisible’ contribution of women, it will become impossible for policymakers to ignore them in national decisions.” The report also documented that “if women’s unpaid work were properly valued, it is quite possible that women would emerge in most societies as the major breadwinners or at least equal breadwinners—since they put in longer hours of work than men.”

A shift toward an economics of caring would replace these traditional indicators with global quality of life measures. With this kind of approach it has been proven that a better predictor of quality of life is to show the status of women, rather than the gross national product.

Nordic nations such as Finland, Norway and Sweden have found that investing in caring policies and programs – from universal healthcare and childcare to generous paid parental leave has been an investment in a higher quality of life and a more innovative economy. From 2003 to 2006, Finland was ahead of even the U.S. in the world economic forum’s global competitiveness ratings.

In an economics of caring which Riane Eisler firmly states is the real wealth of nations, all activities that go to nurture and actualize human beings and our natural environment are given a higher value than activities that promote military spending, environmental, and human, degradation. Instead of being counted as gross national product, these activities could be considered gross national costs.

Eisler asserts that much of our dysfunctional economic behavior is based on that assumption of human nature as basically selfish and the false justification that selfishness leads to greater productivity. She points to recent results in the field of neuroscience to challenge these assumptions.

In a study with 18 month-old babies, scientist Felix Warnekan in the field of evolutionary anthropology discovered even young babies are actually physically programmed to respond in caring and helpful ways. Without rewards or praise, babies would repeatedly offer to help retrieve objects that were accidentally lost, and fail to respond when items such as clothespins and books were intentionally thrown.

This may not seem like a strong case of biology over culture but we all know that our neurochemistry provides a unique pleasure to us whenever we are genuinely caring toward a child, a friend, a lover and even our pets. Scientists can argue that it is a grace of evolution, that when offered a choice, we choose mutual caring over selfishness and greed.

Eisler helps to point out that the stress of competitive conditions has been proven to override our innate desires to bond with others. The cruelty we see even in families is often the result of poorly coping with stress. So many of us have experienced the results of poor parenting because our parents were under pressures they simply do not know how to cope with and not due to a lack of love from them.

Neuroscientists know that children who are abused or neglected will most often continue the pattern in their adult life unless they experience some kind of supportive, respectful environment.

The costs of not being able to provide good childcare and healthcare are enormous – from crime, mental illness, and drug abuse to the shameful loss of human potential. Evidence from neuroscience supports policies of good care, especially for children.

Our UU principle which affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person is often connected to our human responsibility for ethical action. As UU’s, often we overemphasize our imperative for good moral character and neglect our basic need for love, acceptance and support…as we are. The power of our caring communities is a testimonial to this and to our Universalist heritage which affirms a loving God under all conditions and for all people.

This Mother’s Day, may we each affirm the quality of caring that has supported us through life and its invaluable contribution to our personal sense of wealth and well-being. May we feed empowered to offer care to our families, friends, communities and even strangers, knowing that the simple act of affection can work wonders. And may we reach out and offer comfort to all of those who are feeling isolated and neglected this day. May we each feel the care of others freely given our way.

The value of caring is real and it is often greatly underestimated and unacknowledged. In closing I share this passage by Kay Hardie as quoted in the book Some Do Care by Anne Colby and William Damon – “I am one of these people who have been loved every day of my life. I am a person who has been told by the words or actions of those people closest to me, ‘We just think you’re great. You can just do anything.’ I remember thinking a long time ago that in this painful world, if you have been given the kind of things I’ve been given which is the gift of limitless expectations for your life, and security, and a nest to come from, one that was warm and safe, and you look around you and if you have any sensitivity at all, you know that’s not the way most people got their start or live their lives. And for me I would think it would be the road to madness if you didn’t try to give some of it away.”