Since I was a child, I’ve loved cats. As with most things, this was the result of many good experiences over the course of many years. I wasn’t — as most people assume me to be — a “cat person” from the day I was born. Rather, I became one with time.
And over the years I’ve had domestic cats (Felis catus), I’ve learned a variety of different lessons from them — lessons like the difficulty of catching squirrels, the importance of personal hygiene, and the joy to be had from scaring people senseless every now and then.
But beyond these mundane lessons, I’ve also come to a greater appreciation of nature. Of course, to reach this point, many other things had to be in place, including an outdoor environment, a cat, and my own willingness to learn. But with these in place, many lessons can be learned, a few of which I will lay out in the course of this article.
Obviously some cats are indoor cats. But these cats are by far the minority, and in evolutionary terms they represent a behavioral aberration, since the ancestors of domestic cats necessarily lived in outdoor environments for the entirety of their lives.
As a result, the most natural place for a domestic cat — which is much closer to its evolutionary ancestors than a domestic dog — is the outdoors.
And we as humans should be taking the hint. After all, indoor environments are notoriously polluted with dust, mold, and toxic chemicals, making them unhealthy to inhabit for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Not to mention, the emotional and behavioral effects of isolation — which include avoidance, aggression, anxiety, and depression — are hardly desirable.
So, in much the same way that your cat loves to bolt out the door when nobody’s looking, you too should be finding any and every way to incorporate the outdoors into your daily life, especially now that so many social forces are intent on keeping all of us in isolation.
Whether bolting out the door when nobody’s looking, snuggling in cardboard boxes, or climbing up trees which they’re subsequently unable to get out of, cats are renowned for their curiosity. And it’s this curiosity which has not only garnered them their most notorious saying — “curiosity killed the cat” — it also makes them superior explorers.
As a result of this penchant for exploration, cats are able to gain mastery of their surroundings and use them to their advantage. This is how they know the best blind spots to use for an ambush — whether of an unsuspecting prey animal or their owner’s feet. And by doing so, they’re often able to earn the title of apex predator, meaning they’re at the top of the food chain and unlikely to be killed by anything but sickness, old age, or an owner who wants his toes back.
Similarly, if we as humans want to be at the top of our own food chain, we need to explore everything we can, learn as much as we can, and act as wisely as we can. Especially now that the economy is in a state of free-fall — which will almost invariably result in another Great Depression in the near future — this ability to gain the greatest possible advantage from circumstance is invaluable.
And best of all, this habit of exploration necessarily brings us closer to nature, which is by far the best realm in which to let our curiosity run wild.
Use Your Hands
It should go without saying that one of the best ways to express curiosity is to use your hands.
And while cats may not have hands in the same sense that we do — they have appendages, the generic term for hands and feet — they certainly know how to use them. Whether swiping at passing feet, massaging a friendly human’s lap, or turning furniture into confetti, cats are nothing if not resourceful.
And for good reason. Because of their inability to use mechanical tools, cats have to cultivate their speed, strength, agility, and coordination. Using these progressively over time, cats are able to achieve remarkable feats of athleticism — like climbing a tree, landing on all fours after a considerable fall, or eviscerating a feather pillow.
In the same way, we as humans should be making use of our hands and the creativity that comes from them. Whether through sports, art, engineering, or biochemistry, we should be making use of the tools we have to increase our understanding of the natural world, thereby making it a better place for every species.
Even those that like to murder furniture and squirrels.
Seize the Moment
While murdered furniture and squirrels may be an occupational hazard of having a cat, boredom is not.
And the simple reason for this is that cats are masters of seizing the moment. From snuggling in cardboard boxes to swiping at passing feet to making your yard a squirrel-free zone, cats are never without an ulterior motive.
And while it’s easy to take this tendency as a sign of selfishness, it’s equally plausible to take it as a sign of intelligence. After all, if you have a plan in mind to turn your neighbor’s parakeet into mincemeat, then you must first have a mind with which to formulate that plan. And that’s something few humans are willing to consider.
As you may have guessed by now, we should be taking notes here. All too often, we as humans are lulled into complacency by our careers, families, and social expectations. As a result, we effectively relinquish the reins of our lives to others — whether authority figures, loved ones, or celebrities.
But by learning from cats, we may find that we too have thoughts and plans of our own, which will help us to seize the moment and live out our dreams. And because humans are creatures of this Earth too, those dreams will ultimately lead us back to our own true nature and a more fulfilling life.
Leave Your Mark
Once you’ve found your true nature, you may find it’s much easier — not only to seize the moment — but to leave your mark on the world around you. And this is something cats are masters of.
Obviously, the most notorious way in which they do this is to turn a house into a lavatory. Beyond this, cats also have a tendency to turn furniture into confetti when left to their own devices.
But there are also positive ways in which cats leave their mark. Whether by rubbing against us when we’re feeling down, cuddling in our laps after a hard day, or providing a nonjudgmental presence after an unpleasant social encounter, cats can leave a mark on our lives that enriches us beyond mere economic expedience.
And this should remind us of our own responsibility to leave a mark. After all, if we want our lives to have meaning, we need to be engaging with the world around us and improving it in some way. Acting in a socially responsible manner, we too can give others something to remember us by, whether an encouraging word or an act of stewardship for the land that persists for generations.
In either case, we will be doing good for our own true nature and the nature outside our door.
Take Care of Those You Love
Learning from cats, we can begin to follow our own true nature, not only outdoors but in our relationships as well.
This may seem counter-intuitive, especially given the reputation cats have as a result of derogatory representations in the media. From Tom and Jerry to Puss in Boots to grumpy cat memes, cats are rarely depicted as beneficent or altruistic. On the contrary, they’re usually depicted as cunning, vindictive, and selfish — even if those traits are ultimately outweighed by good ones, as in the case of Puss in Boots.
But the truth is that most cats are only as selfish as the people who own them.
When treated with respect and consideration, cats can be loving, affectionate, and companionable. They exhibit prosocial behaviors such as mutual grooming, purring, and cuddling. They can even, in some instances, exhibit protective traits in regard to their owners, especially if they perceive a threat in the immediate environment.
And as you may have guessed by now, we should be doing the same. For if there’s one thing that aligns with nature, it’s doing good for those who do good for us. This is after all the definition of mutualism, and it’s one of the defining hallmarks, not only of our own species, but of the cats who make our lives so much richer than they would be otherwise.
Even if your furniture may disagree.
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