As a Spanish teacher, I come across many cultural ideas that are often different than the ones I grew up with as a product of midwestern America. Cariño is one of them.
Cariño is the idea of caring or loving those around you. I first came in contact with this word as an interpreter at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. I worked at Camp Atterbury which, for the two weeks of the Games, had been transformed into an eventing venue for the best horses and riders in the western hemisphere.
A Venezuelan groom with a philosophical bent spoke to me about it one day as we roamed the grounds on a lazy afternoon. The conversation was in Spanish, so I had to listen carefully and ask lots of questions to be sure I understood. The gist was a comparison between American and Latin American ideas of how people should interact with one another. According to Julio, Americans need more cariño. We are too cold and impersonal, enjoying our own space which pushes us apart.
Latin Americans on the other hand care little for personal space. They enjoy proximity and personal touch, placing a hand on a shoulder during a conversation, or walking arm in arm. This showing of care and closeness is what they call cariño.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of cariño. The adjective form of the word is cariñoso or cariñosa depending on what is being described. God’s love is cariñoso. He draws close and delights in loving touches and close-up conversation.
Loving is the most important thing we are commanded to do. We are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus defines our neighbor as fellow human beings. We aren’t to judge their worthiness only to love them and show mercy as we wish to receive it. To my mind, this is the essence of cariño.
My heartiest wish is that at the end of my life, I would be described as being cariñosa. That my life would leave a legacy of love. I have this as my goal and have to remind myself of it when something happens that puts me in a mood to be hateful or decidedly unmerciful. Sometimes I don’t catch myself quickly enough and awful words issue from my lips. Other times I am able to head off my horrid words and at least be quiet.
I like that there is a single word for this concept of being loving and caring and merciful. Cariño. [kar EE nyo] Such a beautiful word for a beautiful idea. Perhaps you’d like to adopt it, too? If we pass on the idea, we’ll make a the world a more loving place. And isn’t that just what it needs?
I pray everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving complete with a healthy dose of cariño.