I spend way too much of my free time solving puzzles whose solutions consist of inspirational or clever quotations. One of yesterday’s quotes was an antimetabole (I think that’s what they’re called) that went something like this: “Pessimists see difficulty in every opportunity, while optimists see opportunity in every difficulty.”
I don’t remember to whom this quote was attributed, and I wouldn’t tell you even if I could remember, because quotes are often either misquoted or misattributed or both, and I don’t want to perpetuate that kind of misinformation. Nonetheless I got to thinking about this quotation later in the day after I made a very disturbing discovery.
George the cat had been uncharacteristically submissive, allowing me to trim a couple of his claws while he lay on my bed. To reward him for his forbearance, I went to retrieve the nearly full bag of cat treats that I had stashed in one of the under-bed drawers. When I found the bag, I was horrified to see that some creature had gnawed through the plastic and eaten every last crumb.
Naturally I blamed George. No, I didn’t think he had snuck into the drawer and gorged on treats, but he has the bad habit of bringing maimed rodents into the house, and sometimes they get away before he’s finished playing with them. I knew that one escapee had been hanging out under my mattress for a while, but I didn’t know that it had found a trove of nourishment.
With no way to reward George, I gave up on trying to groom him (he was getting pretty squirmy). Instead I contemplated the unspeakable horror of sharing my bed with rats (or large mice; we aren’t sure what they are). And that’s when the quotation from earlier in the day came back to me. I tend to be both a pessimist and an optimist (a pestomist?), able to see the bad in the good just as easily as vice versa. So I tried to think of the upside of living with rats, and I realized that this was a chance to align my behavior with my values.
For years I have believed that one of our most destructive human habits is the practice of prioritizing some people over others. Most of us put everyone we know into concentric circles: close family and friends at the center, followed by outer rings of acquaintances, friends of friends, celebrities, grocery clerks, politicians, used car salesmen, etc. It seems irrational to devalue people just because we’ve put them in an outer circle. Why should I care more about my own flesh and blood than someone else’s?
I guess there used to be evolutionary reasons for giving preferential treatment to our family or tribe, but really, haven’t we outgrown that sort of primitive favoritism? And what does any of that evolutionary mumbo-jumbo have to do with choosing which animals we value? Why do we kill and eat those we don’t know well while petting and cooing over the ones we feel close to? Surely I can learn to appreciate the neighborhood rats as much as I do my own cats. Some people keep rats as pets and find them quite lovable.
A few weeks ago I bought some humane mouse traps, so that theoretically we can rid the house of rodents without killing them. I haven’t caught any yet, but it hadn’t occurred to me to bait the trap with cat treats. After I replenish the supply, I will look forward to befriending a captive rodent. The hard part will be persuading George to be equally tolerant of diversity in his house.