Innovators of Care

The Innovators of Care

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Technology has become synonymous with innovation.  And innovation, unfortunately, has become reducible to Silicon Valley technology—ignoring the possibility that human relationships are vibrant sources of creativity that make possible new ways of knowing ourselves and others.  It’s time we begin appreciating how the caregiving relationship, in particular, is a site of potent dynamism.  If you are in a care-based relationship, you are an innovator because you embody . . .

Spontaneity as a Way of Knowing.  A care-based relationship is unlike most other relationships because it’s not exclusively built on expectations of the future.  Parent-child relationships are grounded in the promises of what is possible.  Romantic relationships offer the promise of exclusivity and fidelity in perpetuity.  And friendships remind us that we are the same yesterday as we will be tomorrow.  A care-based relationship, however, is all about a willingness to embrace another despite the future.

While others may see the lack of possibility because of an indefinite future, care innovators find meaning in a place few others dare enter—the radically spontaneous, unpredictable possibility of the moment that promises nothing other than what we make of it.  Care innovators don’t use the present as a means to shape the future—they use the present for connection while all else disappears into the background.

Care innovators are the explorers of the 21st century—daring to venture with another without the comforting predictability of what will come next.  This kind of innovation takes courage and risk, and yes, caregivers are those willing to risk closeness without knowing what will happen tomorrow.  While most others fret over the possibility of losing control, care innovators continue caring even when controlling what will happen next is not possible.

Acceptance as a Way of Being with Another. “How do you do it, really?” “I couldn’t do it, I care too much.” “I would start crying every time I enter the room.” Care innovators often hear such refrains from sincere people when explaining why they can’t engage in care-based relationships.  So what source of innovation do caregivers draw upon that other people seemingly don’t have?  A caregiver’s capacity to enter into a care-based relationship is all about an act of disruption that most others don’t even attempt.  Most people approach relationships from a prism of change—I need to change you to become more like me.  No one ever says this explicitly—but change is the underlying assumption in almost every other type of relationship. . . If only the person nearest to me could think like me. If only the person nearest to me, could believe like I believe. If only the person nearest to me could make decisions like me.  You are perfect—don’t ever change.

Caregivers, however, lean on the most disruptive form of human invention ever conceived: acceptance. Yes, acceptance is disruptive when it comes to orienting ourselves to another.  Acceptance is such a rarity because it asks us to risk engaging another on her terms and where she is, not where you want her to be. Not where you need him to be. Not where you are asking him to be—where he is now.

Care-based relationships accept the uselessness of asking a loved one’s body to be or respond in ways that it isn’t or can’t.  Yes, we can still want someone to improve and get better, but innovators experience care-based relationships on a multi-dimensional plane that does not stipulate acceptance on the condition of improvement.  Care innovators’ radical acceptance means reaching out to connect at the very moment when the world around them uses rejection as a form of protection from awkwardness, discomfort, and the grief associated with what may no longer be possible.

A New Way of Achieving Closeness.  Most relationships are assessed by time alone.  “How long have you been together?” “I can’t believe you’ve been married for 35 years.”  The assumption is that close and intense relationships take time as two people get to know each other in a way only time will allow.  Most people depend on time to help them negotiate relationships.  “Don’t get to know someone too fast.” “Only reveal superficial things in the beginning of a relationship.” “Revealing vulnerabilities is only for those who know us best.”

Care innovators ignore these clichés of closeness.  They don’t need to know someone’s past to understand who is before them. They don’t need a gradual exchange of information to open themselves up to the person before them in that unique moment.  Innovators of closeness don’t lead with pointed questions to find some elusive common ground.  Common ground doesn’t need to be found—it is always present but too often it is camouflaged beneath and above a bundle of prefabricated words.

Sharing space without the pressures of information exchange as the sole guiding principle of understanding keeps these innovators close to what is important in that moment—not what we think is important before arriving at that moment.  The greatest innovators amongst us are those who possess the tolerance to let the form of their particular and unique interaction be the guide for everything they need to know and everything they don’t need to know to be with the person in front of them.

At The Unprepared Caregiver, we recognize that those engaged in care-based relationships are innovators of human connection.  Care innovations aren’t discovered by a lone genius in a garage or a fancy office in Silicon Valley.  Relational innovation happens in the privacy of homes.  Never alone though.  Always with someone.  Authentic innovation need not be something you purchase or buy or find in the cloud.  The early adopters of such care innovations are title-less and status-less.  Their creativity and ways of being are never live-streamed. It’s time we begin awakening to the care revolution that is redefining what it means to be creative and ingenious because relational innovation is happening every day.  The next time someone asks you who you are or what you do, say you are an innovator—a care innovator, because you are and it’s about time we begin naming what is happening.

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About the Author

Zachary White

Dr. Zachary White is an Assistant Professor of Communication. He received his Ph.D. in communication from Purdue University. His academic research and teaching focus on how people manage meaning and communicate their experiences amidst high levels of ambiguity. He has published and presented academic research addressing health communication as encountered by medical providers, informal caregivers, family members, and organizational employees. He teaches university courses at the graduate and undergraduate level addressing topics including provider-patient communication, health and illness narratives, digital health literacy, interpersonal communication and relationship development on and offline, online social support and disclosure, the management of health-related disclosures in the workplace, and sense making amidst life transitions.

2 Comments

  1. OH Zachary White, thank you!

    What a big, sweet rolling wave to see and hear that informal caregivers are recognized as innovators, and yes, innovators working very privately under duress and ongoing stress. Innovators none the less!

    And strangely enough, some of them are children – even less recognized. Have you ever come across any programs or places that recognize children who become caregivers because of family illness? I have not yet, however, as an innovator I believe in the possibility.

    Thank you for sharing these ideas. So worthy.

  2. This topic is very timely as I enter my second year as a caregiver. My common law spouse and I are living through a painful conflict with his family. I now have a better understanding of their behaviours in that they may be feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and much grief as they try to cope, despite their uninformed and stereotypical beliefs, that their loved one remains the same whole person he was prior to the health event, that he cannot always respond in ways that feel normal to them. This is acceptance. The family need to work through this, accept the new life for their loved one, and accept responsibility for their own behaviours.
    Thanks Zachary, for the words you have written, as these are the very words, thoughts and feelings I have had but unable to express them.

    I look forward to more of your blogs!
    W.

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