For or about? It matters.

The words "handle with care" as if applied by a rubber stampWe say we care about someone.

Sometimes we care for someone.

There’s a difference, and it matters.

When we care about someone, they’re a person for whom we have a certain regard. We probably like them, respect them, appreciate them, admire them, maybe even love them.

But we might not actually know them. We can care about a charismatic leader. We can care about someone on television or in the movies. We can care about someone when we believe they’re doing good work. We can care about a political figure or a philanthropist.

When we care for someone, there’s active contact involved. We could be a leader mentoring an employee or brainstorming a colleague’s problem. We may be celebrating with a friend – or offering a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. We might be planning a recognition event as a surprise for our team’s outstanding performance.

It’s hard to care for someone if you don’t care about them. It’s not hard at all to care about someone without caring for them.

When it’s someone close to us – our team at work, a partner, friend, family member – it’s best if we can care about AND care for them.

And it’s a problem if we care about someone close to us without also caring for them.

Note: I’m not talking about health-care caregivers in this instance, even if they happen to be family members or friends. That’s a whole different, and very complex, relationship.