We have entered a section of the story of the Little Prince that’s about learning to care for another person. It will prove to be a challenging section because it will turn some of our ideas on their head.
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The Little Prince has met a fox – the fox is teaching him what it means to care. He calls it “taming,” which means “creating ties.” It means you gradually develop a meaningful connection.
But there’s “connection” and there’s connection. What many of us experience is a pseudo “connection” – even in some of our closest relationships, whereby we are like Siamese twins joined at the hip. This is emotional fusion— emotional enmeshment, like being emotionally welded to someone as if you were the same person- not authentic heart-to-heart connection as part of an ultimate oneness of everyone and everything.
Writes Milton Mayeroff in his book “On Caring”:
This feeling of the other as part of me is different from the kind of union with the other found in such parasitic relations as morbid dependence on another person or dogmatically clinging to a belief, for in both these cases I am unable to respond to it truly. When I dogmatically cling to a belief, I am so attached to it that I am unable to experience it as separate from me, and I cannot really examine the belief and find out what it means, let alone determine whether it is true or false.
Mayeroff is talking about the vast difference between being fused — welded together emotionally — with someone, in contrast to regarding the person as a reality in their own right.
If we are fused with someone — if we are emotionally like Siamese twins fused at the hip — we will be forever needy of them and seek to control the direction of the relationship. Caring has none of these negative traits.
As Mayeroff explains:
The meaning of caring I want to suggest is not to be confused with such meanings as wishing well, liking, comforting and maintaining, or simply having an interest in what happens to another.
Caring, as helping another grow and actualize himself, is a process, a way of relating to someone that involves development, in the same way that friendship can only emerge in time through mutual trust and a deepening and qualitative transformation of the relationship.
The fox is in no rush to form close ties with the Little Prince because he knows such ties have to develop organically. Connection that’s authentic can’t be forced. It has to follow a process of engagement that comes one step at a time. Real caring isn’t just an emotional feeling for someone, but a question of getting to know them as a person in their own right—a person we then care for in the way they experience as caring, and not in a form of “caring” that’s a projection of our own needs and opinions, which is just emotional fusion instead of caring.