by Mark L. Levinson
What I want is the same as what you want, where political leaders are concerned: honesty, competence, wisdom, and ichpatiut — which means giving a damn, caring about things.
The word ichpat comes from Aramaic, and the dictionaries aren’t unanimous about whether it’s best spelled אכפת or איכפת. In fact, they don’t even agree on what part of speech ichpat is — a noun or a verb or an adverb. Dov Ben Abba’s paperback dictionary, apparently at a loss, doesn’t label it as any part of speech; neither does the three-volume Alcalay dictionary. Zilberman’s dictionary refrains from listing ichpat by itself at all; instead, it lists ichpat li and defines it as “I care.”
If you ask me (in my ignorance of Aramaic), ichpat should be classed as an impersonal verb, although I can imagine thinking of it as a noun. If it’s a noun, then ichpat li — “I have an ichpat” — would structurally work like “I have a mental investment.”
If something ichpats to you, then it carries weight in your thinking. The word ichpat is related to the idea of weight or pressing or burdening. The Alcalay dictionary tells me that the term for a paperweight in Hebrew is related — even echef. The adjective ichpati, however, doesn’t mean carrying weight, it means attributing weight to things and responding accordingly. Could it possibly be influenced by empati, the Hebrew way of saying “empathetic”?
Having empathy means being able to imagine how you’d feel if you were the other guy. Empathy can work as a translation for ichpatiut in a lot of contexts, but not always. The politician who cares about making sure that the poor are fed, for example, might care because he vicariously feels their hunger, or alternatively he might care because of a moral commitment to a particular kind of social order without exerting himself to identify with them emotionally.
In either case he cares, and “caring” appears a lot as a translation of ichpatiut. But “caring” doesn’t always work either. You can say you want an honest, caring leader, but you can’t say you want a leader with honesty and caring. The word “caringness” suggests itself, and it does get some usage. But no traditional dictionary seems to include it. You can find “caringness” in online dictionaries — YourDictionary.com and WordHippo.com. WordHippo also has a thesaurus, which links “caringness” to the words “charity,” “commiseration,” “compassion,” “consideration,” “humaneness” and “humanity,” “kindness” and “kindheartedness,” “softness” and “softheartedness,” “tenderness” and “tenderheartedness,” “sensitivity,” “sympathy,” and “heart.”
Each is good for ichpatiut in some contexts, but many of them, like “empathy,” imply an emotion that isn’t necessarily there. For example, when the political leader rallies his activists for a last-minute effort to defeat his opponent, he wants to see ichpatiut that isn’t tender or compassionate. He wants commitment. Sometimes ichpatiut is political or social consciousness. Rarely, I think, does it consist solely of sighing sympathetically as you read the paper. So “humaneness” could be one of the more useful words, because it implies doing something. And “heart” can be used to imply courage or willingness.
Some dictionaries list “concern.” Like caring, it’s more a state of mind than a personal trait, but certainly it fits for ichpatiut regarding the poor or the environment. If you display ichpatiut toward your children, on the other hand, “concern” could imply that you’re worried about them. You can care about them without being worried. Sivan & Levenstein’s dictionary for Bantam–Megiddo says that ichpatiut is “concern” or “a feeling of responsibility.” One of the definitions on Reverso.net is “regard.”
Babylon’s Hebrew thesaurus relates ichpatiut to “interest,” and Dov Ben Abba’s ichpat definition mentions “involvement.” In a way, those are two ends of the ichpatiut spectrum. It’s possible to be interested but scarcely feel ichpatiut at all because you’re not involved, for example when you watch ants carrying crumbs. And you can be involved without being interested. I spent long hours that way at some desk jobs.
One last word mentioned in defining ichpatiut is “mind,” because as Even Shoshan says, we often hear it in the negative. So if you don’t mind — im lo ichpat — and if you have anything to add to the discussion of these words, please use the comment space below. If there’s another word or phrase that you believe deserves a column, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.