In the past half a year or so, I’ve undertaken the task of befriending the cats at my condo.
I’ve noticed some of them since they were kittens. At that time, they darted into bushes when I walked by them, but they also meowed to get my attention (from afar), clearly too afraid to get close. They were (and some of them still are!) wary creatures that relied on signals from their mother to determine a stranger’s trustworthiness.
Since then, I’ve patiently tried to earn their trust – With food, slow movement (in order not to startle) and lots of backing off when necessary. It was a really long process that demanded my patience, but most importantly, there are several insights that can be drawn from the past few months.
The first is related to the trustworthiness of humans.
Why should we as humans expect great and kind things from strangers whom intentions we don’t know of? The cats sure never expected it. Perhaps they know better than any of us that it is always safer to be wary, than to trust a stranger and get fucked over.
The untrustworthiness of humans can really be appalling sometimes. It is revealed in petty fights, low-brow insults, lies and hypocritical behaviour. As humans, we are inconsistent, and I too am guilty of this.
However, what matters is the self-awareness to acknowledge our mistakes and inconsistencies, and to do better next time. This doesn’t mean that we never do wrong again, nor does it guarantee that we will never make the same mistake. All it promises is that we have the capability to see where we have done wrong, and make amends.
Cats do not care about your self-awareness or your ethics. To them, you just need to show that you can be trusted via certain actions (e.g. giving them food, not touching their bellies, and giving them space when they show signs of stress). This is sufficient proof.
Humans, unfortunately, are more complex. What constitutes sufficient proof for humans? Humans inherently lack credibility, and I believe that not everyone is worth my trust nor my time…but they are at least worth my kindness. It’s a commitment that I have made to practice not just patience, but also love without expecting anything in return.
This brings me to my second takeaway from my time with the cats – They have made me realise that I am someone with more love than I originally thought. It’s a simple but also surprising conclusion for someone as cynical and skeptical as I am.
These furry creatures elucidate the joy of giving (one salmon biscuit at a time), and this joy is a powerful and hopeful one. I have never considered myself as an “animal person”. Yet, here I am, always carrying a bag of salmon biscuits in my tote bag so I can feed the cats I meet.
My love for cats extend beyond just friendly felines, but even those who are hostile and slow to warm up to human interaction. Even if they take my biscuits and run, I still derive satisfaction from giving.
This is something which I find more difficult to understand and accept with human beings, but I still have to try.
Some cats can be delightfully affectionate. However, they also have their moods.
Their mood may affect how they act around you, for instance, they may not want to be touched as much when they are annoyed by something. Alternatively, they may scratch you when they are feeling distressed and you get too close.
This bears striking similarity to humans. When we are irate, we snap at others. When we are distressed and someone has said something that hits too close to home, we may lash out with an attack that hurts them.
Just like us, cats have the capacity to give and receive love. However, as animals, they also have lots of instinctive reactions to the environment around them that cannot be controlled.
Herein lies the difference between us and cats – which is my third takeaway – We have the capacity to control our reactions such that we do not hurt others. We can choose to be loving and kind despite our fleeting feelings of anger or frustration.
Yet, we always forget that this is a choice.
Many would retort that it is not a choice, and I understand that feeling – It’s not so straightforward. Rage, sadness, frustration – they are all afflictions that cling to our skin and bones. But what we lack is not the capacity to be kind in times of turmoil, but the practice.
The cats are good practice for me. Even when they scratch me sometimes, I still want to choose to love them.