Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Red cats and burning bridges. A life's lesson.

By Robbins Richardson
Life teaches us lessons on a regular basis. This week's lesson is about parting shots-- burning bridges, or revenge, or sucker punches. It's so easy to slam the door on your way out, to blast an email, cuss someone out and hang up the phone -- it's safe, and satisfying, just spew and exit. Every so often I relearn why this is a loser way to act. Directly or indirectly,  I was reminded again,  through animals, why there is such a thing as manners.

My red cat
I was really ticked off when I was on the phone with the cat rescue interviewer. I thought things had gone south irreparably--the lady seemed unreasonable and nothing I said helped. I wanted to lash out, and to give this lady a piece of my mind about her standards, and her closed-mindedness, and her rudeness, and her willingness to put her own views above the cat's welfare. But I didn't. I restated my interest in the cat, and in working with her, and I expressed a optimism I didn't feel. I was polite, but felt righteous anger that ate at me for days.

This past Saturday I met the rescue lady -- "dragon lady" in my imagination--in person. The rescue lady was physically handicapped, slight, and birdlike in her movements. Her hair was badly dyed black, and partly because of that she looked pale. It was written in her eyes -- this woman had not had an easy life.

As we sat down, I noticed she had a stack of single-spaced, double-sided instructions for cat care. All that information was for us. She patiently told us about her cat care regimen, complete with anecdotes to illustrate her points, and for two hours we listened while she covered every topic. This woman loves cats beyond all reason, and every story, every anecdote about cats she had placed, and the cats that had been hurt or injured as a result of poor care, she kept close to her heart. She has fifteen cats, and she is devoted to them. What I thought was, this woman is alarmingly like me -- but she's about cats, I'm about horses. I was so thankful I had held my tongue.

I thought Bob would bristle at having to sit through her soliloquy -- believe me she was not telling us anything we didn't know. But when I looked at him he was nodding and absorbed in her words. When she left, he said "I'm glad we support that group. They really care." One thing about Bob, he is a good judge of people and their motivations. He saw what I saw.

The lesson
Again and again, I learn that when you want to be impulsive you should wait it out. You have to give people a chance, and at least try to understand their view.  An email flame, the putdown, the going-behind-the back, is just a sign of someone who wants to make their point without having to expose themselves to alternative views. It's a giant middle finger that says I'm the only perspective that matters here. It's ego.

This was a special lady, and I was so wrong about her, and I'm so happy to be wrong. And now, because of her, I have an orange cat that I'll appreciate even more because she reminded me of how precious these animals are. Thanks rescue lady.


  1. Nice post, and good for you for realizing and sharing your moment of wisdom. Having myself a "sit on it" moment today, and this was great to hear.

    My only wish is that mine involved some cool orange kitties!

  2. Excellent post. This is a difficult lesson to keep in the front of one's mind when frustrations are high. A colleague has a nice saying to complement your piece:

    Adversity does not build character; adversity reveals character.

  3. Stacey: So glad you shared this and it is spot-on! I heard one time that the things that often bug us about other people are usually things we don't like in ourselves! Don't think that necessarily applies here, but I respect you so much for offering this for public consumption. Please check out my latest blog post, I think you'd like it.

  4. Very wise advice. Thank you for sharing your experience and congrats on your new orange cat.

  5. This was a really good and thoughtful story. Thank you for sharing.

  6. What a great post! Rescue people see so much ugliness, bad treatment and poor judgement when it comes to pets that they often acquire a tendency to be a bit snippy and defensive when a potential adopter asks after one of their charges. The truth is, they just want the best home for the kitty and don't want to see anything bad happen to him. I'm glad you were able to see that, and understand.

  7. Um... I don't know a polite way to say this, but she sounds exactly like what I expected - someone with a poor life who overcompensates by becoming a little crazy. Fifteen cats is too many for one person to socialize and care for properly, and if she truly loved them, she would know that. You're doing yourself a disservice by comparing yourself to her. You don't have umpteen horses.

  8. Thank you for posting this. I think it's a lesson we have to relearn every day. The ego driven impluse to react never really goes away, but when we submit to it, we dull our awareness and risk missing something good in life. This was an excellent example of that.


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