“For every ill in the world,
There is a cure or there is none.
If there is one
Seek until you find it,
If there is none
Nevermind it.” —Mother Goose
I was in a class where the general agreement arrived at mourning over every death that happened every day. I finally had to point out that doing such a thing was impossible and trying would very quickly make you unhappy beyond help. Still, there is the question: when should we not care? When should we care?
For want of a nail the horseshoe was lost
For want of a horseshoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the soldier was lost
For want of a soldier the kingdom was lost
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.
That this poem is famous tells me we have a misunderstanding about what to care about. To a certain degree you should care about horseshoe nails, or the number of matches in the matchbox, but where exactly the point of not caring is, is a matter of vagueness. The problem of vagueness has a classical characterization that applies to language: if we take one grain of sand away from a heap of sand, we still can call it a heap, but if we keep doing that, we will end up with something we are unsure about, without knowing exactly when we have become unsure! Here the problem of vagueness is not merely linguistic, but ethical. If we don’t take care of little things, at some point those little things will pile up until you find you are a generally uncaring person, and there is no telling when that will happen. What do we do?
This problem calls for strategy. What I tell my daughter is, you care about your bodyweight, or the spots on your face, as long as caring is helping to clear out your mind. Once this caring is no longer helping to ease the mind, you stop. Further, we should care about every little detail *inside our own minds* “How can I improve my intentions, attitude towards this present person, situation, life?” “When I act (because you have to do something about your intentions and attitude) what is the quality of my intention and attitude in the act?” “What tiny fault is there in my own goodness, my own understanding?” These are things you can handle. It is still a very hard and ambitious thing to train yourself to care about, but you can not handle all the deaths in the world.