You can learn a lot about human behavior from observing cats.
I believe cats share many similarities with us humans, being creatures of habit who tend to repeat patterns that bring them rewards, even if those patterns are not in our best interest. Allow me to elaborate by introducing you to my youngest feline companion, Sol.
Sol is a stunningBombay cat with a remarkably human-like demeanor. Whenever I call hername, she promptly comes to me, responding with an inquisitive “Hmmm?”as if engaging in conversation.
I adopted her from NYDeathRowCats at the beginning of the pandemic, a decision that has profoundly impacted my life in ways I can’t fully express here. Essentially, I started rescuing cats abandoned due to the effects of Covid.
One of the “tricks” I taught Sol was to take treats from me while perched on a chair. She would jump on a stool/chair which is conveniently positioned near the back door of my kitchen. But before giving her a treat she would have to endure me lifting her up to eye level and she would get a word or two about the dangers of straying too far from home, I would kiss her forehead (hoping she wasn’t playing with a rodent outside) then give her her premium treat. Initially, I offered her these indulgent treats, but as I accumulated more cats, the cost of treats seemed to high so I had to switch to regular dry cat food as a substitute for “treats.”Surprisingly, Sol’s reward mechanism was already triggered by the memory of the expensive treats.
Sol’s fondness for this ritual and the her treats, that she didn’t even notice the difference in quality. Her desire for our little ritual remained so strong that she relished the average dry food with equal satisfaction. However, yesterday both of my cats unexpectedly ventured beyond the confines of my yard. While they typically spend an hour or three outside, occasionally they embark on mysterious “missions” that keep them away for a day or two.
Maybe they’re visiting my adoring neighbors who feed and pamper them, or perhaps they are out there being feline detectives, solving crimes. It remains a mystery. Maybe this is their way of seeking a break from my excessive attention. I compare this to how we humans become entangled in our busy lives. I give them space and a chance to lead lives of their own, shrouded in secrecy and foreverhidden from me.
Today, Sol returned from her overnight escapade, famished and yearning for the ritual. If you’re familiar with Bombay cats, you’ll know they communicate differently compared to, let’s say, Tuxedo cats. So, I served her some wet food on her chair. After taking a small bite, she came back chirping and seeking a belly rub, yet still not entirely satisfied by the food in her dish.
That’s when I directed her attention to the other dish of dry food on the floor. She nibbled at it and chirped again, expressing her frustration. It wasn’t until I placed a handful of dry food on her beloved chair, showered her with affectionate strokes, and professed my love for her did she stop complaining. Please refrain from laughing at me, as this ritual helped me maintain my sanity during the challenging days of the Covid lockdowns.
Well, something struck me in that moment. Can you perceive it? Can you observe what occurred and the striking resemblance to human behavior? People tend to exhibit similar tendencies when incentivized.
The danger lies in the potential switch that may transpire in the quality of what we receive, subtly manipulating our reward system. Yet, even if the quality diminishes, we could easily find ourselves yearning for our “reward,” even demanding it. This phenomenon holds true, whether it pertains to becoming creatures of habit or yielding to the influence of external systems of rewards.
Whether those sytems are political, the media, our employer, often follow a comparable pattern.
The media for example are rewarded for reporting news, leading them to embellish, conceal and even at times fabricate stories. Our employers may make little asks that chip away at our ethics, our beliefs even our soul. Asks that were not present at the beginning but which accrued with time. Then somehow in the course of things we fell into our habits, asked for our Friday treat, and complained if something was off. But we always complied.
Similarly, politicians, especially those craven and hooked on power rather than service. Their thirst for more power often causes them to deliver inferior quality, all in pursuit of maintaining or augmenting their authority. Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump are prime examples of this. Not one whiff of charactor or leadership. But they have their audience of habit hanging on every word.
The essence of my point is that we often become complicit in a system, hoping it will continue rewarding us. We never anticipate that the system will one day stop rewarding us. Or worse that the system will switch a thing of value for a thing of lesser value, or perhaps even subsitute a good thing for a bad thing that may actually harm us. Therefore, it is imperitive that we realize that we are all to a large degree creatures of habit, who must resist being lazy in thought. We must do some self-reflection on the rewards we get, be it money, a sense of belonging, status, bragging rights. We need to look inwardly and ask: Wat habits am I feeding and why? Who is triggering this feeling within me? What is the ask?
We must realize that in the world of authoritarian leaders, none were ever honest about the costs, but they were always long on the promises and rewards. They knew not to simply arrest people, but to put them into “protective custody” (for their own safety of course). You see, those who, like drug dealers get us hooked on habits will never tell us that until it’s too late. So watch those who promise the world to us, who can offer no plans, no original thoughts, but who only inspire fear, hatred, control and ignorance. Watch closely those who dangle treats, promise you safety, acceptance and who offer you rewards for your newly formed habits.