What exactly do we mean when we describe someone’s actions as careless? Technically, to be careless means to ‘act with insufficient attention’. I would argue that the word ‘thoughtless’ could just as easily be used here and that a more appropriate definition for ‘careless’ is exactly that; a lack of care.
We don’t tend to use the word careless in this way though. Most often, we hear it used to describe unfortunate – but ultimately harmless – behaviour. But what about when careless behaviour actually does cause harm to others? If you’re the person on the receiving end of recurring disregard, it can be difficult to believe that others genuinely care about your needs or your welfare. And this is especially hurtful when the relationships in question are supposedly significant ones.
Many people would argue that careless behaviour does not mean they don’t care about others. This is understandable; not many would like to think of themselves as uncaring. However, if you follow the premise – as I do – that our actions are an extension of who we are and what we stand for, then there is some merit in questioning exactly how caring people are when they are repeatedly careless in their day-to-day lives.
This doesn’t mean they have no capacity to care, but I do think it signifies a disconnection of some kind. Unfortunately, down-playing careless behaviour means we aren’t often aware of this. And if we’re too busy excusing our carelessness, there is little space for developing behaviour that is – in contrast – full of care.
If carelessness is disregard for those around us, then carefulness is simply the opposite; demonstrating regard for others. I think it’s important to note that this goes beyond telling people they are important – anyone can do that – to considerate actions.
This may mean letting others know if you need a time-out or having a difficult (but necessary) conversation instead of withdrawing in silence, but sometimes the simplest actions are the most meaningful. Making an effort to stay in touch and respond to messages, following through on commitments in reasonable time, taking the time to ask people how they feel rather than assuming you have the answers, being inclusive when arranging events or sharing news and being sensitive to known problem areas can be powerful ways to show regard.
In short, acting with care means taking the time to consider others into the equation. And it’s worth noting that the absence of considerate behaviour might send the message that someone is not worthy of your attention or care.
Which is where seemingly harmless behaviour, especially when it’s cumulative, can become harmful to our well-being. I speak from experience here; being buffeted about by various inconsiderate and insincere people left me feeling like I was constantly fighting to be heard, to be respected, to be valued. Emerging from this, I realised that having to fight for myself in these ways meant I wasn’t surrounding myself with the right people. This has been an incredibly hard fact to face, but it does yield the possibility of better things to come.
So maybe it’s time to take a look at the careless people in our lives and evaluate what they’re bringing to the table and what our own threshold for tolerating careless behaviour is. For my part, I think the litmus test here is fairly simple: does the relationship actively demonstrate mutual regard? If the answer is no, then perhaps it is time to make space for those relationships that will.
Photo credit: Care Bears Movie 1985