This is a quick chain of thoughts that, honestly, probably belongs on Facebook or something.
It’s June. I’m fried. I’m not at UUA General Assembly, and I’m going to work the night shift tonight. I’d rather be home snuggling my new cat and eating ice cream.
I’m also thinking about humans, and human systems. About anxiety in individuals and systems. About how when you squeeze fear hard enough it comes out as anger.
Watching our new cat and our old cat figure out what to do with each other in the same house has been a reminder of that. Folks used to think cats were selfish and solitary creatures – constantly on the prowl, seeking only to fulfill their own needs – and arguably they CAN be that way when in an environment of scarcity and threat. They are small predators after all. They do take good care of themselves when they have to.
But then I learned about feral cat colonies when I started watching kitten rescue video last year, and it’s more complicated than that. In an environment of low threat and relative abundance, cats become incredibly social creatures – bonding with same- or opposite-sex partners (I have no idea how gender theory applies to cats, and they aren’t telling); mamas adopting orphaned kittens and co-parenting with other mom cats; self-selecting for relationships with humans and each other.
After we brought Tilly home, we looked at her vet records (she was an owner-surrendered cat) and saw a laundry list of behavior issues that had led her previous human to give her up — nearly all of them the sorts of fear-based behavior that happens under chronic stress, scarcity and threat or competition.
So we have gone out of our way to make our home a place of abundance, at least as far as the cats are concerned: lots of places to sleep, food to eat, litter-boxes to use; and lots of human attention and reassurance that we love both of our cats, there’s plenty of love in this house, and the occasional reminder to knock it off and not be jerks.
And it’s working.
I wish humans were as easy as cats.
Without pointing fingers, I’m looking at three different human systems that I’m embedded in, and noticing patterns of reactivity, fear-based responses to the unknown that squeeze out as anger. Watching leaders make bold decisions that call people to be accountable to one another and to the systems that bind us, and watching people react with anxiety and mistrust. It is true that in so many ways, so many of our leaders and systems have not been accountable, have caused harm — and will likely cause harm again.
That is after all how western culture has taken shape – internalizing models of competition rather than cooperation, scarcity rather than abundance, litigation and hierarchy over reconciliation and relationship. I am thinking specifically about the adjustment of understanding, of imagination that comes with the shift from “what can this system do to/for me?” to “what can I do within this system?” — the shift from centering the individual to perceiving the individual within the system as a whole.
That is the common thread that I am noticing among all these various unrelated systems that I’m in right now. And the shift is so unfamiliar — especially to those of us who have internalized white-western (academic, patriarchal, etc) culture — that to even contemplate not just doing different things but fundamentally reorienting and doing all the things differently feels like an existential threat.
But y’all. There’s plenty of love in this house.
There’s plenty of love in this house.