I am fortunate enough to be staffing for the Bridge Peer Counseling Center this quarter. One important concept in counseling is the idea of self-care. You cannot help others if you yourself are unwell. Therefore, the Bridge class, which I highly recommend taking, devotes an entire unit to taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
Even so, some people may wonder why self-care is important. A lot of peer counseling is fairly routine. There are protocols to follow and general structures we use to help guide counselees. While no one type of counseling maps perfectly onto this system, there is a general flow to follow that makes counseling easier. It is not the stress of counseling itself that makes self-care important. The stress of caring about the people you counsel is what weighs upon you most heavily. Most people choose to staff at the Bridge because they care deeply about the mental health and well-being of their peers. But caring comes with a price.
Caring about people or causes leads to an inevitable vulnerability. That is what makes relationships so difficult. If two people did not care deeply about each other, then breakups would be no big deal. A lot of people do not even bother forming these close relationships simply because their dissolution hurts. But therein lies the problem: The only way to have a deep connection to something or someone is to care about it.
I feel that caring is not a popular thing to do on Stanford’s campus. Excuses are often designed to divorce us from caring about the subject. When someone does poorly in a class, I often hear them remark how stupid the class is. I did poorly because it’s just a club sport. I’m not calling him because he is not calling me. I can show up late, it’s just a pet project. I got that “B” because my TA is incompetent.
For most people, it is easier to go through life claiming you do not have a care in the world. It is easier to go with the flow or just slip by. The fact of the matter is, caring can really suck. It can be an unimaginably difficult thing to cope with. If you just simply dispose of your cares, then that pain will go away. I cannot lose friends I do not have, and I cannot fail at something I never try.
The problem is, if you go through life without giving a damn, one day you will realize that you are numb. You never had an intimate relationship because you were too afraid to be weak. You never stood up for a cause because you were embarrassed. You never learned a new hobby because bumbling around as a beginner is not fun. You did not let yourself get caught up in a passion because you did not know where it would lead. You were afraid of the pain caring can bring.
But the people I most respect are the ones that give a damn. This does not just apply to Olympians or Rhodes Scholars, though those people certainly demonstrate devotion. Caring is the club rugby player on my team who shows up half an hour early to practice and stays late. It is my friend who tried to show up at my dorm with brownies when I was feeling sad. It is the 70-year-old man in my Greek mythology class who just wants to learn. It is the ASB leaders at the Haas Center who invest themselves in social causes.
Now is the time to honestly assess who or what you care about. Although caring can bring pain, it is a requisite for love. Love is a manifestation of the care and admiration you invest into something or someone. Tolstoy once wrote that “there are as many loves as there are hearts.” That love starts with caring, and caring is up to you.
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