February 8, 2020
by Robyn Paterson
Polarization among people is incredibly high and continuing to rise. The Cat World is no different. It has long been known that one must be thick-skinned to interact within the breeding world regardless of species - cat, dog, horse, bird, reptile - but the Cat World has always been known to be extra "catty."
While we are fighting within our circles - whatever those circles may be: breed, cat club, region, registry - we lose sight of our real problem; there are well-funded, activist organizations working the legal systems around the world in an organized effort to eliminate pedigree pets.
Perhaps we should take a lesson from our cats and learn how to build up our relationships with those in the Cat Fancy who we see as different from us. After reading "Choosing Compassion In A Callout Culture" by Aaron Rose, I could see how we could follow some of his steps to build better relationships within the Cat World. I've condensed his steps down a bit and offered a Cat-World perspective.
Step One - "Heal yourself to heal the world. Your work starts with you – owning your story, and releasing the blocks that stand between you and truly recognizing yourself in another. . . For those of us (read: all of us!) who have felt minimized or unsafe because of who we are, leaning into even more discomfort can feel scary. But the more we connect with our own sense of humanity, the more we can extend that to others."
Take some time to reflect on your journey in the cat world. When have you felt slighted, wronged, scared to speak up? Own that story and recognize that it affects how you interact with others. It is hard to prevent our previous experiences from shaping our actions, but we must try. A lot of people do get burned in the cat world, but if you treat every new breeder you meet as if they are going to burn you, you won't make any friends; furthermore, you pass on that attitude, and it becomes normalized. You need to build good relationships - people with whom you can celebrate and cry.
Step Two - "Redefine how you love. We are all called to love each other now as if our lives depended on it. . . Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke often about. . . love as the driving force behind all his work. He said, 'There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me … But. . . love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men.'"
When my sister was mean to me as a child, my Grandmother would say, "You don't have to like your sister, but you do have to love her." I can't think of stronger words of wisdom for us in the Cat World. Are we going to like everyone that we meet? No. But we can love them. Loving people means offering empathy - understanding. A person may not breed cats you like; you can understand their vision without wanting it. A person may not have the same approach to animal husbandry, kitten rearing, breed selection. We do not have to like their methods, but we can try to understand why they do things the way they do them.
All of us are the products of what we have experienced in the past. If there is a concern for another person's animal husbandry, befriend the person, and offer that person a different experience from which to build a new understanding. You've heard the adage, be the change you want to see. Loving people is understanding the experiences that shape who they are. Instead of calling out their wrongness to the world, show them a different experience and allow them the opportunity to make a change.
Step Three - "Know our history, know yourself. We make it a lot easier for others to trust us and give us room to grow when we show up fully. In the context of identity and social change, this means understanding our world’s historical patterns of exclusion and violence. Acknowledge your part and make amends. . . Understand both your access and power, as well as your history of pain and struggle. Recognize that we all have inherent biases, and be prepared to acknowledge them as they surface."
Know your history of both the pedigree cat world and the forces working to destroy the pedigree cat world. Know your breed history. Know the struggles previous breeders faced, conquered, and lost.
This step is so crucial for the Bengal breed in particular. The people wanting to end the existence of pedigree cats will take down the breeds with hybrid roots first. It is vital that every single Bengal breeder understands this and understands the battles that have been fought for the breed already. Know where and how those battles have been lost - where Bengals are illegal to own. Know how your words and actions could come back to bite you. For example, I used to think it was a good thing to connect the uniqueness of the Bengal cat to its Leopard cat ancestry, but now I understand how that could be used against the breed by those trying to eliminate hybrids and breeds with hybrid ancestry. That understanding shapes how I speak and write about the breed now.
It is also important for breeders of cats who aren't coming from hybrid roots to understand that protecting the "low hanging fruit" protects the whole cat fancy. If the cat fancy has a unified voice against eliminating hybrid breeds, then it sets a precedent for when the forces are turned against pedigree pets in general. When we divide among ourselves and create a polarized community within the cat fancy - within the world of pedigree pets - then we are easily picked apart one by one by our common enemy.
Step Four - "Release perfection, embrace integrity. We will all make mistakes along the way. Doing this work is about integrity: staying in alignment with your values and maintaining your sense of wholeness in the process. . . . none of us will have the perfect word every time."
Accept that cat breeders are human, and all humans make mistakes. Don't hold people to a mandate of perfection, and be accepting - even encouraging - of change. Know that people often come into the fancy with ideas of big profits. Accept that this is their vision based on the experiences they have had. Trust that new experiences will teach otherwise.
Make a plan for how you will respond when you hear the classic mistakes being made on social media. Is your response an attack? Does your response invite the person to learn through a new experience? Share your story of how you learned the lesson you'd like to teach to offer a new experience.
Allow people the opportunity to change, to grow, to reflect, to develop new values. Perhaps someone started breeding valuing the fantasy of profit. Give them a chance to fall in love with and value the cats.
Step Five - "Reframe callouts as opportunities for connection. When someone tells you your words were offensive, it’s easy to get defensive and push back. . . Humans don’t often take the time to let somebody know they feel hurt. . . Framed this way, each callout is a gift in service of our collective healing and evolution."
When somebody lets you know that your words hurt them, let them know that you heard that message. This does not mean you have to agree. This does not mean you were wrong. It means you listened. Part of our problem today is that we respond without listening. We go on the defense without genuinely knowing if there is anything to defend. We all make mistakes, and in this tenuous world, something we say is likely to hurt another at some point in time. If we get called out for that, have a planned response such as, "Thank you for letting me know how you feel." You may not have meant the words as they were received. The receiver's experiences differ from yours; you have no control over that. If your intentions were truly good, you might try a different way to communicate. If - while taking a pause - you realize your intentions were not entirely good, then having that planned phrase that stops the momentum of the conversation allows you to either shift your message to be something well-intended or back out of the conversation before you cause more hurt.
We need to interact within the cat world as if no one inside of our world is trying to take us down. It does not mean that there aren't people within the cat world who are hurting one another. It means we change how we interact with those people in a conquest to unify the world of pedigree pets. We share something in common - cats. We need to build upon our commonality to form relationships that can't be torn down, so we can work together for the betterment of pedigree pets.
Rose, Aaron. “CHOOSING COMPASSION IN A CALLOUT CULTURE.” The Numinous. 5 Nov. 2018. www.the-numinous.com.