Since the evening before Thanksgiving I have been spending some time with some close friends and distant cousins of mine as is frequently my habit. This family has been taking care of a cat belonging to a granddaughter of theirs for a few months, and this cat is particularly entertaining. As someone who is greatly amused by the behavior of pets without having any of them myself or having grown up used to having them, I enjoy being amused by the behavior of animals and having the opportunity to witness the strange ways of other beings as a way of gaining better understanding of my own strange ways. Whether we are fond of watching people or watching animals, there is a great deal that we can gain in terms of insight by virtue of our observations. Our laughter at the folly of others can be tempered by an understanding that underneath it all, we are not such different beings ourselves, not so immune to folly in our own ways that may equally amuse those who watch us.
This morning in particular I have been greatly amused by the cat’s habit of attacking his shadow vigorously. Repeatedly throughout the morning, the overgrown kitten has seen the shadow of its tail or some other part of its body on the ground and then pounced on it, trying to destroy its shadow, and then moving on like nothing happened after the attempts are unsuccessful. Apparently the cat has also pawed at its own reflection in the mirror, because it cannot recognize that the image being reflected back is itself. Now, this is not the only sort of attacking behavior the cat has shown that has been greatly entertaining. So far the cat has managed to attack the strap that comes down from my backpack, has threatened to pounce on the stack of completed books that have been read and reviewed that sits to the right of me on the window ledge near the front entrance, and spent a considerable amount of time a couple of days ago attacking a belt that it thought was a dangerous snake. All of this, of course, caused a great deal of amusement to me and others who were around.
To be sure, cats are creatures of strange habits , and this cat is no exception. Already, when I spent a month here during the summer, I was occasionally both amused and exasperated by the cat’s conduct. On the one hand, some deeds of the cat struck me as particularly impressive, like the ability of the cat to jump halfway up the stairs and to climb in and out of the house through high windows with a great deal of dexterity. Some habits of this particular cat, like catching field mice and playing with them by tossing them in the air in complicated gymnastics before gobbling them down bones and all, were at least of interest, as seeing rodents suffer from post-concussion syndrome before being gobbled is something worth observing even if one’s feelings about predators playing with their prey are complex. And some habits of this particular cat are exasperating, such as the way the cat likes to slobber on the face of people or to sleep on their legs in such a way that makes it difficult to move or to retain feeling in one’s limbs.
In reflecting on the habits of other beings, even cats who whine to be let outside and then immediately whine to be let back inside because it’s too old, I am prompted to wonder about what the habits of others say about our own. If we are wise, our interactions with others and our observations of others can give us a better understanding of what others see when they look at us. As human beings, we can learn not only through direct experience but also through reasoning by analogy, and when we see others from the outside and reflect upon how such things look, we can turn the same processes back on ourselves and look at our own behavior from the outside and see how it would appear to others who lack our own understanding of our interior motives and intentions. That sort of perspective can be greatly beneficial, not least in the way that it helps us both to develop empathy into understanding others by ascribing to them charitable interpretations of their conduct and kindly views of their quirks and eccentricities, but because we can better understand how we may be viewed both by those who have and those who lack charity towards ourselves. And is that not truly a good way to use one’s amusement at seeing a cat attack its shadows, knowing that we are sometimes just as amusing and ridiculous in the perspective of those around us?
 See, for example: