What is consideration? From the Christian point of view that question has historically been framed in terms that would make us into perpetual martyrs. We are told to walk a mile in the other’s shoes, to take up our Cross and follow, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves… It’s that last one that has more recently been cause for further conversation. In my lifetime the emphasis has been on the self and self-care. Again this is a reaction to the overly heavy and “martyr-like” tone of the Christian message of years gone by that appeared to make the self into a kind of mat people could walk over at any time. For many reasons, not least of all good mental health, the self has been given new life and the argument has been made that if one does not care for one’s self there is nothing left to offer the neighbour.
So consideration is a two-way street. We are hard-wired, or so I believe, to love and care and share. But there are limits to what we can offer. If we allow ourselves to run down our reserves we find there is nothing left to give. Those of us in the helping professions understand we need to set some boundaries, to attentive to our own needs and love our selves. This corrective has been a very positive thing in the life of the church and the wider culture, it has saved many lives and given many a guilty care-giver a kind of absolution to take a break from the constant need to be a Florence Nightingale.
But more recently there has come to us the new challenge of self-care being used by participants in community so that in the end there is no one left to care for others. If we all claim the right to care for ourselves who is left to look out for the others? In church world I have been this scenario play itself out and the sad truth is the result is whoever is left with the most guilt picks up the pieces and gets the work done. If this pattern continues it will not have a happy ending. For in the helping world that remaining “guilt-ridden” person who picks up the pieces, very unhappily, is often an older person, reflecting the values of their upbringing. This short-term solution will not last.
I believe we have come to a point where we need to step back from what was once a very helpful corrective, which is “what are my needs here?” to a “how can we understand the needs of everyone in this community and then parcel out the responsibility to make love a reality?” This starts with a basic need, the ability to see how the other sees. If we can truly try to see how others see we can attempt to put the needs of the collective on the table and then sort out what each of us can offer, a kind of “Stone Soup” approach to active consideration.
I feel we are moving in a direction where those who are currently “picking up the pieces” will not be with us much longer and that strong motivator of guilt that once propelled someone to step up and rescue a community need will soon be extinct. The language of “my self-care” has been a useful corrective to a long era of persons believing that if they are Christians they are to be “floor mats” and let people walk all over them. But there are limits to this language.
One final point, the lens of gender and gender justice cannot be left out of the conversation. For too long it has been left to women to be that source of rescue and martyrdom, to pick up the pieces. It is still true. Every mother knows this. To find our way to a community that is truly considerate of each other is to understand how gender roles have been used to make one gender serve the other. That cannot be allowed to stand.