Virtute has a bit of a reputation for being mean. I can’t say that it’s warranted, but I do think that he does have spurts and bouts of desire to dominate or to annoy that seem to suggest that he’s doing it on purpose. For instance, a few days ago he spent over an hour crying loudly at Jenny’s door to be let in, only to stay for a moment and then begin crying loudly to be let out. And last night he ate a large dinner and then skulked around waiting for Gumption to finish her tiny portion in order to ensure that he could get to her dish to finish it off – hungry or not.
It’s not a good look. This morning I decided to ask him why he sometimes acts mean. Rather than push back and get defensive, which is what I expected, he instead tried to be reflective and put his behaviour into a larger perspective. “I think cats have that reputation in general,” he began. “There’s this idea that cats are mean and dogs are kind, it’s all over the Internet and it kind of sets us all up in some way. But there’s also some truth to it. I think part of the impression that we are mean comes from our desire to maintain some control within and against the process of domestication.”
I asked him what he meant, and his explanation began to hit home. “Look, it’s not like you’re immune to this either? In fact, I’d say that most people organizing against capitalism, racism, colonialism and other forms of power structures come off as mean. It’s tough being the one’s who are pushing back against what feels like a powerful tidal wave. And frankly, there’s truth to that too. You folks on the radical left tend to be mean. You tend to be judgmental and quick to anger. You tend to concentrate on telling people what they are doing wrong and not trying to invite people into different and potentially better ways of being. It’s not necessarily fair, just like for cats, that you folks get labelled as mean by those resistant to different ways of being, but there is truth to it too.”
Feeling a bit humbled, I apologized for calling him mean. “Don’t apologize,” he snapped back, perhaps a little too briskly. “I’m glad you brought this up with me. I definitely want to fight this domestication, but I also want you and those around me to know that I love you and know that I want to invite you in – to struggle together. So I will think about ways that I can be kind instead of mean.” Sheepishly, I asked what he thought I should do or at least those of us on the left should do to be less mean. Lowering his eyes and staring me down, he replied, “Listen to your movement elders. You know, Grace Lee Boggs once said, ‘We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other,’ and that requires acting out of kindness rather than meanness. One day I’ll tell you about the etymology of kindness.”
And there we sat, two mean kids trying to be kind in a cruel world. I’m glad to have Virtute as a friend to work these things out.