An ethic of care

During my academic life I had the chance to contribute to a lively debate about the so-called Ethic of Care. It taught me to see care as the hallmark of moral life. This approach to ethics, that originated in Women’s Studies, is still further spreading its wings in discussions about moral issues in all kinds of fields. Allthough I am not active in the academic discussions anymore the care ethic still informs much of what I am doing.

According to the care ethic moral life is a practice that starts with attention, empathy and compassion. From there we can engage in reflections and dialogues about responsibility and contribute towards creating relationships and cultures of competence and trust. From the start on care ethicists have promoted a relational view of life: they have emphasized the interdependence between humans and between humans and other life forms, and thus also our responsibility for living in the world with others as well as possible.

More than in my earlier work I learned through my spiritual work to understand the importance of care for the self and care for the soul for our individual and collective quests for good practices of care-giving and care-receiving. After all it’s through the soul that we experience connection in every aspect and dimension of our lives. ‘Care for the soul’ learns us to unravel and let go the many projections and undue expectations that can characterize caring practices, and to practice freedom where power prevailed. It helps to install human flourishing as the overall goal of care, and it acknowledges the heart as the coordination centre. From here we can attune head, heart and hands, or: thinking, loving and doing. And let’s not forget about the feet: they keep us moving along the path…

Caring well

My own soul journey has taught me that ‘care for the soul‘ has the capacity to improve our practices of caring for and with others. It all starts from reflection on our every day life and the web of relationships we live in.  I give you some thoughts suggestions here, and invite you to make your own list, and share it with others.


  • acknowledge your dependencies and vulnerabilities and those of others
  • give for the sake of giving, when you see your care is needed
  • share what you can share, without asking or expecting a return
  • be grateful for what you receive, and handle with care what has been entrusted to you
  • acknowledge abundance instead of scarcity, and honor Mother Earth for what she is giving us
  • train yourself in ‘deep listening’, and in honoring people’s stories about their lives
  • ‘love forth love’: pass to others the love that has been given to you
  • practice speaking in truthful and respectful manners
  • let go of what doesn’t serve you on the path
  • be receptive towards the mystery of life, by honoring stillness, modesty and not-knowing
  • open yourself for the perspectives of others who differ from you
  • look inside yourself instead of complaining about and blaming others
  • don’t be afraid of the dark, but remember that new things germinate in its depth
  • don’t let yourself be caught by fear, resentment and cynicism, but rather investigate where they’re coming from and let them go
  • admit what you have done wrong, and be proud about what you have accomplished
  • forgive yourself and others for harm done
  • practice natality (the principle of birth) by acknowledging that you can always make a fresh new start
  • look for reconciliation and peace instead of hiding yourself in entrenched animosities
  • travel along the bright side of the road: live every day of your life with humor and light(ness)
  • and yes – also the ‘love your enemy’ should figure in this list, if only since it makes us realize that it are often ourselves who turn fellow humans beings into ‘enemies’.


Care for the world

In my academic work on the care ethic I tried to formulate a secular, political version of care. Until I discovered that nearly all the world religions contain beautiful and profound teachings about care, ranging from the Buddhist teachings about compassion, the Christian message of unconditional love, the African philosophies of Ubuntu (‘we can only be a person through her persons’), and the Andean concepts of ayni and munay: reciprocity and ‘love under your will’. And they all have elaborated ideas about how to combine this with the spiritual path, the journey of the soul.

This underpins the universality of the wish for good caring practices for everybody, and opens the path to intercultural and inter-religious encounters and dialogues about the need for ‘caring for the world’. The awareness is growing that we are after all sitting around the same table, where we can share the sacred wisdoms of humanity.

There are indeed many global initiatives that move in that direction, and that transcend the split between care, spirituality and politics. Think about the UN Earth Charter for example, or the International Charter for Compassion, the Global Shift Network, the network of Indigenous Grandmothers, the movements for Basic Income and for a new Gift Economy, the worldwide Climate Movement, the charismatic commitment to peace of the Dalai Lama and the initiatives for inter-religious peace by Pope Francis. We’re living in a period of transformation from the old paradigm to a new one, in which the message of care is gaining more and more ground…

From my practice Schermafbeelding 2015-12-14 om 12.47.20I intend to follow and support these developments.

I will write about it in my blog.

You still can order some of my earlier publications on care, or invite me to lecture about my recent ideas.

And you can download my recent article on Active attention here


“Sevenhuijsen’s book provides a stimulating account of the potential of integrating care into conceptions of democratic citizenship and social justice… Her book makes an important contribution to legal and healthcare issues and more generally to what it means to live, work and participate in a democratic society.”   Canadian Woman Studies

“You have the need and the right to spend part of your life caring for your soul. It is not easy. You have to resist the demands of the work-oriented, often defensive, element in your psyche that measures life only in terms of output — how much you produce — not in terms of the quality of your life experiences”    

Jean Shinoda Bolen