Caring Isn’t Carrying

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It’s been said that better questions lead us naturally to better answers, and that it’s in not knowing that we open the doorway to knowing. I’m Scott Lennox and you’re listening to The Beautiful Question, a consideration of things that truly matter in a complex world.

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Unless you’re a firefighter, you probably won’t be carrying anyone who’s in distress, and even then, you won’t carry them far. We understand that intellectually, but how often do we cross that line mentally or emotionally, taking on what was never ours in the first place?

Join me this week as we consider the differences between caring and carrying. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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With one very notable exception, I remind myself and those I counsel that “caring” and “carrying” are two completely different activities. Yet, how often do we consciously or unconsciously tell ourselves that if we care about someone, we must carry them or carry their outcome in some way?

I won’t presume to speak for you, but my shoulders aren’t broad enough or strong enough to carry all the people I care about.

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The notable exception I mentioned happened to a friend of mine. I’ll him call “Michael” to protect his identity. He and his combat partner (I’ll call him “David”) served with a highly specialized military unit in the jungles of Central America. On a particularly challenging mission, the two of them took such heavy enemy fire that it’s a miracle either of them made it back alive.

When David was in town for a visit, the three of us went out for lunch. It was only then that I learn what really happened in the jungle. Early in our relationship, Michael told me about serving in Central America, but said nothing about the extreme things he did to save his partner’s life.

“Did Michael tell you what he did for me down there?” David asked me as our conversation began.
“He told me the two of you got hit pretty hard,” I said.

David looked at Michael and then back at me as he swung out from the table and pulled up his pant legs to show me the heaviest scarring and disfiguring I’ve ever seen. His legs looked like they had been put through a shredding machine.

“I’ve had thirty operations and have metal rods in both legs. I would have died if Michael hadn’t gotten me out,” he said.

Michael’s reaction was a typically modest one as David told me the rest of the story.

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“He picked me up and put me over his shoulder and carried me thirty miles through heavy jungle. More than once, he had to put me down and engage the enemy and then pick me up again to carry me to our extraction point. If we hadn’t made it there on time, we wouldn’t have been taken out and I’m sure I would have died.”

Looking at the two of them, I remembered some of my own combat experiences and could hardly speak. To this day, whenever I think of it, I’m sure that what Michael did borders on the superhuman. But that’s not the point of our consideration this week. Our consideration is its opposite.

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Photo: TeamOne


In our daily lives, we’re not called to do anything even close to what my friend did. Yet, we often act as though we’ve been given full responsibility for the welfare and outcomes of those we care about. To avoid that, it’s essential to remember that “caring” and “carrying” are two entirely different experiences.

Our word “care” derives from the Old High German word “chara,” which means “to grieve.” Caring is not about becoming a super-hero and it’s certainly not about saving the world. It’s about feeling compassion for someone.

As a wise friend recently told me, caring is about “showing compassion without the need to ‘fix’ the situation.” She added, “I can’t fix or take away the pain and suffering from those I care about because doing so (even if it were possible) would deny them the opportunity to grow in confidence of themselves; they have to learn their own lessons.”

She’s absolutely right about that.

I’ll never fully understand how Michael was able to marshal the courage and strength and focus he needed to save his partner’s life under such extreme conditions. But I don’t have to guess at all about what happens when we confuse caring for carrying. I learned the hard way that when we artificially take on someone else’s burden, we put both of us at risk and we do each of us a disservice.

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Consider this, if you’re struggling in some way, and I take on your outcome as my own, in what ways am I preventing you from growing as you work through your challenges? In what ways am I mentally and emotionally (and sometimes physically) burdening myself?

If, on the other hand, I come alongside you with rational compassion, wisely understanding the limits of healthy care, how much clearer are the boundaries between us? How much less entangled do we become? How much more do you grow to your own capacity, and how much more energy do I reserve for myself?

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In my work as a counselor, I make it a point to keep this in the forefront of my thinking as I engage with people who are struggling. I think of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who wisely wrote, “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.”

Simply stated, she’s saying that we can compassionately care about a wide array of people all at the same time, but as only one person, we’re incapable of doing something for everyone who moves our heart. You might think of your ability to carry things in the form of a personal basket. Once it’s full, there’s no room for anything else to be put into it, regardless how insistent you are or how creative you might be.

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This week’s Beautiful Questions are about keeping in mind the differences between caring and carrying as we respond to those we love and care about. I invite you to take your time as you consider them. Here are the questions.

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Question One: Can you think of a time when you “crossed the line” in some way as you cared for someone, and can you remember what that cost you or the other person?

Question Two: When you care about someone in truly healthy ways, what does that look like?

Question Three: What will be different as you remain mindful of the difference between caring and carrying?

As always, I look forward to your responses to these considerations. Write and tell me where your answers take you.

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As I say each week,
My Light with Your Light!

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Thank you for joining me in these podcasts as we keep doing the things we can to respond to life in increasingly effective ways. As always, I’m open to your comments and feedback.

You can be further inspired by visiting my friends at Kosmos Journal. That’s K O S M O S Journal. Their mission is to inform, inspire, and engage global transformation in harmony with all life. You can easily find them online at Kosmos Journal dot O R G.

And at, you can read the illustrated transcript of each podcast as you listen. You’ll also find an archive of all previous podcasts, including episodes three and four, guided relaxation audios that can help you practice letting go on a daily basis.

If you find these podcasts useful, don’t hesitate to share them or tell others about them. That’s a great way of helping me get a voice of calm and collaboration and balance and encouragement out into the world.

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I’m Scott Lennox, and this has been The Beautiful Question.

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The Beautiful Question is a One Light production, written, produced, and engineered by Scott Lennox at HeartRock Studios in Fort Worth, Texas, as a way of paying forward to life, being fully present, becoming better engaged with things that truly matter in a complex world, and committing to a healthier future for all of us.

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