Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve: The Violence of Care

Life can not be lived on a scale. Yet, multiple cultures find themselves centering their idealized life in terms of balance. To have a home life and a work life. To live for oneself, but also be a representation of a life lived for your family, your cultural groups, and your society. The scale represents the separation of these lives lived, of these tasks being individualized, and yet to live between these two: there is nothing but pressure. 

The existence of these idealized versions of life stems from understanding the importance of the individual. The care we put into ourselves is how we make it through each day. While we still must care for others and the world we live in, we can only care for the external when we maintain the internal. Therefore, equating ourselves to that of a life lived compartmentalized would suggest we are able to somehow produce enough care for all aspects of life to run smoothly. Yet, there is no discussion on what happens when one portion that has been locked off from the rest changes. To give extra care in this “balanced” system, can only be a result of neglect in other portions of life. In trying to provide more care where it is needed care must be lost in other elements, occasionally resulting in more malfunctions later down the road. This then leads to the violence of caring. 

To look at the origin of these terms for a moment it is important to understand where care and violence root themselves. To care, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, is to be in  “a disquieted state of mixed uncertainty, apprehension, and responsibility”, yet violence is an “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force” (Merriam Webster). The very definition of the word care exists in a state incapable of being balanced and yet somehow we continue to restrain it to be that. When looking at the definitions side by side, it appears as though one must feed off the other. You can only care when there is violence of some sort, but violence can only ensue when people care. Perhaps playing on the common dilemma, if a hurricane makes landfall, but no one is around to feel it, was it ever really there at all? While there is no doubt that the hurricane’s path exists and it existed in its form, there was no impact to be cared for, so did any violence ever really occur? 

Semantically, ideals of care and violence can be shared and argued but ultimately these words have no universal meaning. What could be care for one may be violent to another. The only power these words hold is the power we have given them. To care is good and to be violent is bad according to societal standards. Yet ultimately one can not exist without the other. 

Within my life I have been no stranger to the relationship that exists between these two words. For a long portion of my life I found myself taking care of my health, as it seemed fit for both myself and my family. While protecting myself through medical testing, hospital trips, or even just days where it felt im;ossible to do nothing but breathe I made sure to take care of myself. I would drink water, eat when I could and stay safe at home. That care is what everyone expects a sick child to receive. But in that same breath I missed life. I existed in school as an empty desk that my classmates knew should be filled, but got used to being there. I existed as an occasional call to friends to ask about their lives and how it felt to grow up, to come of age. As a show pony at family gatherings to catch sympathy hugs and then lay down in someone else’s bed when the lights or conversations became too much. The care that was keeping me safe, that was restoring me to my health destroyed any sense of community and self I could have had when most people expected to find it. While my friends were experiencing first dates and sports events, I would simply lay.

All of this being said, I moved forward away from that care but also away from the violence of being stunted in my education and my social life. Knowing one end of the extreme I’ve decided that the care for solely my health was one that would destroy my life. So I moved forward in my education, moved forward with my social life, never fully recovered because not everything goes away with care, but yet you persevere. But now what takes the place of this care has been placed in too much care for my education and social life that results in neglect for my health, which then forces me to take a step back and care for my health again making myself incapable of continuing the care for my education and social life until the balance is restored. But it can not stay restored because deadlines don’t change because you can not get out of bed. There are choices to be made, places to put care, but with every choice that is made there is violence on the opposing end. 

To examine the push and pull of violence and care from a literary perspective, Shakespeare’s The Tempest the balance of the two and the imbalance of care lays at the very foundation of the story. A story full of magic, family dynamics, and power contains only one female character. A character who is not even fully understanding of the power dynamics and shifting of the world that is taking place. Yet, the real imbalance is found in the story of the main anti hero Prospero, Miranda is just dragged along through it.  Prospero is raised in the place of potential power, yet his yearning for knowledge, specifically knowledge of the occult. He is meant to be a noble, but his want for this knowledge, the care he places into furthering his learning of magic makes him disinterested in being a future ruler. Therefore, he gives it up. He understands that his care for his studies outweighs his care of his family’s lineage and his rightful place as the Duke of Milan. This results in him and his daughter being banished, to seclusion where he is able to care for his magic and for his daughter, but where he longs for his position back. So he ensues violence on his own brother, his own people for the sake of redemption. He continues to care for his daughter and his magic keeping them separated from the rest of life, only leading to more violence. His daughter knows not of his power, of his family lineage and is not able to have relationships beyond this island until the story unfolds. Until he is able to restore his position as the rightful Duke of Milan and go home with his daughter. But the care he has put into his magic and the care he has put into his relationship with his daughter is violent. The search for power and knowledge overcame him and left his daughter alone and in the dark with only him to care for her. She experiences the violence as a result of her father’s care not only for her, but everything important in his life.

On a more grandiose scale, Zone One by Coleson Whitehead deals with a more interesting understanding of care. The story tells of a post-apocalyptic torn lower Manhattan that struggles with the war of the survivors of a plague and the infected.  The main protagonist Mark Spitz tells tales of him and his fellow civilians through the worst days of the plague and his current state in Manhattan. What is so compelling about the story is what I would consider to be the manufacturing of care.  The civilians “must” clear the streets of the infected bodies caring for their own safety, but also actively commiting violent acts on those that were once just like them, erasing the last bit of their lives. But what is more fascinating is the civilian creation of care for these people. Telling tales and making up lives for those infected before the plague, entertaining themselves, taking care of their minds, but creating an effigy of the lives lost. The novel discussed at great lengths the effect of post- apocalypse stress disorder, and this method of making light of the situation and doing a very human thing, creating through all of this destruction, is pivotal for the care of the community. Yet, in the same breath they are destroying people that have now become “othered” because of the plague. 

The words care and violence are neither positive or negative words in my eyes. They exist merely as the roots for us to explain life through different avenues. Where one can feel cared for others may feel hurt, when you intend to care violence may result, and violence can take the form of care through certain lenses. Therefore, I wager the idea of removing the idea of “the balance of care” and instead suggest to live life by weighing the results of care in the forms of violence that may result. Some acts of destruction are worth caring for oneself, some forms of care are worth others losses, and all forms of care can and will be violent so long as you care with passion. 

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