February 2018

Once upon a time there lived a mouse, a cat and a dog in the same house. They were basically stuck with each other.

Cat had been trying to catch Mouse for several months, since he assumed that was what his owners expected – and to be frank he wouldn’t say no to a tasty mouse either. But despite his efforts, he hadn’t managed to catch Mouse, who was always one step ahead of him. He had tried everything, so he could not be accused of being lazy. In fact he ran all over the place from the break of dawn until late at night, everywhere he thought Mouse could appear. He couldn’t make head nor tail of it. A normal cat would catch mice galore, by the simple fact of being a cat – that’s how it had always been. And he had never encountered any problems with catching the relatives of Mouse. He had simply killed them off, one by one. But this last one was a survivor. And then there was this annoying and clumsy dog creature that kept getting in his way. He basically ruined everything.

Dog had not been in the house that long yet. Cat had been there much longer – exactly how much he didn’t know – but judging by the condescending behaviour of that useless creature, it must have been very long. Dog in turn had a hard time not chasing after Cat. His whole dog being yearned to do so, but he knew it irritated his owners to no end. So he tried his best to suppress his animal instincts and please his owners like a model pack animal. Meanwhile he had grasped how to learn and suppress stuff, including the urge to chase after cats. As a Border Collie he was quite smart, after all. But no matter how many insights he had gathered, when Cat suddenly came parading haughtily through the living room – knowing full well he was there -, he couldn’t control himself and chased after the irritating creature. His owners were not happy at all, judging by the way they shouted at him, and he was quite disappointed with himself for not being able to control his outbursts. He had worked it out so clearly in his head – so why couldn’t he stop chasing after Cat?

Mouse felt completely unwanted in the house, but he had to make the best of it and in order to survive he tried to avoid Cat. So far that had worked quite well. Mouse had taken the time to quietly study the comings and goings of his room mates, especially those of Cat. He had been observing and reflecting. He had seen his relatives fall victim to Cat one by one. They had also wanted to survive, but what had they done instead? They had gone after that piece of cheese or breadcrumb in the kitchen, taking enormous risks when knowing full well that Cat could appear out of nowhere. They foolishly followed their urge to eat, blind to the danger. He had observed all of it very carefully and mapped the typical mouse behaviour with his small but exquisite brain. He had gained insight in his own urge and where it came from – as long as he could remember his family’s motto had been ‘better a crumb in the belly than 10 on the counter’. So he understood how his relatives had come to pass away prematurely.

He had also observed Cat and discovered patterns in the animal’s behaviour. Using those insights he had started doing small tests, with the purpose of gathering information. He would for instance only come out of his hiding hole behind the fridge when he heard the noise of the dog chasing after the cat, accompanied by the shouting of the humans in the house. All eyes were clearly aimed elsewhere during those moments. At first it was quite hard to go against his family values and to wait for the right moment, especially when his belly was rumbling and the crumbs smelled so heavenly. It really didn’t feel right. Could he still be a worthy descendant of his family when acting this way? But his tests were always successful and slowly Mouse started to change. He started to realise and feel that being a mouse did not necessarily mean that you blindly went for the crumbs. And so he managed to survive amidst all the danger.

What is the moral of this story? Cat and Dog are each in their own way the victim of their immunity to change. Cat tries to reach his goal by taking action blindly and doing what he thinks every normal cat does. He doesn’t look beyond the obvious and has a serious blind spot.

Dog does have a good view on what is needed to change his nature. But it’s all in his head and he keeps running around in circles, he has never done any tests to see if his insights are right and what they do to him. Mouse did manage to change – for him it was also a real matter of life or death.

To summarise: action without insight is as fruitless as insight without action – or how Cat and Dog should follow the example of Mouse. Next time: how Dog manages to change his behaviour successfully.

© Anne De Smet

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