On Caring

I stumbled across an amazing book written by Milton Mayeroff titled On Caring. While the book was written in 1971, it holds some extremely valuable principles that, when applied to today’s online ethical dilemmas, help support a care ethics approach to digital and professional writing. In this post, I’m going to explore one of his principles on caring for a person (or audience) and how this concept can be applied to modern-day digital rhetoric.

In the first few pages of his book, Mayeroff writes, “And here too, whatever the important differences are between caring for a person and caring for an idea, I would like to show that the is a common pattern of helping the other grow” (p. 2). This quote is preceded by the exploration of the different things people care for and the different ways they do so. Taking this quote and applying it to digital rhetoric, I focus in on the concept of people vs. ideas.

One of the biggest challenges I notice digital writers facing is that they see the rhetoric on the screen or the email list that has been gathered as an idea rather than people. This can lead to a more aggressive or utilitarian approach to writing, making the focus on oneself or the ends rather than the receiver or audience. As Mayeroff writes, central to caring for others is helping them grow; by framing digital spaces with an ethical model such as care ethics, the focus moves away from How does this benefit me? to How does this benefit or care for my audience? This crucial shift in thought makes all the difference in how one approaches writing in digital spaces–whether it is a professional email campaign, online classroom, or Web 2.0 interaction.