A small cat made it out of the valley into our home two days ago. He was trembling from hunger. We could not refrain from giving him milk, unaware that this would be the beginning of an unbreakable bond between us. In two days time, the creature recovered completely, and is now a very (very) lively, playful little buddy. He is, like all creatures when they are in such miniature proportions, indisputably cute.
It is quite amazing to observe the developing of care. How the heart can not help but reaching out. Two days ago this was just a cat like many, and now here we are, unfathomably interdependent. Where is the fine border that separates indifference from love and participation? Is it in the caring, through the caring? Something happens when you first pour the milk in a bowl. And it is a win-win situation.
Caring has many positive side-effects. It has an engrossing quality which allows us – temporarily – to become oblivious of our own little big self. Which is exactly what is needed in this all-too individualistic society of ours. Which is what I need after a day of bragging my social self around. On the other hand, caring also seems to act as a reinforcement of the giving self, the part of us that we love the most because it is abundant, fearless and true. In other words, the giver is rewarded by the very opportunity of giving, through which the duality of the relation disappears.
“It is a total conveyance of self to other, a continual transformation of individual to duality to new individual and new duality. Neither the engrossing of the one caring nor the perception of the cared-for is rational; that is, neither is reasoned. While much of what goes on in caring is rational and carefully thought out, the basic relationship is not, and neither is the required awareness of relatedness […] The one caring sees the best self in the cared-for and works with him to actualize that self.”
(Nel Noddings, “Caring: a feminine approach to ethic & moral education”, 1984)
I surely don’t know much about cats, other than it feels dangerously easy to fall in love with one. While I type, I look around mesmerizing at how this little cub is mastering his new environment: with curiosity, extreme attentiveness, a struggle for competence. Quite obviously though, our notion of desired interaction already differ. It might be a doomed-to-fail battle to try and teach a cat the inviolability of a human bed. Or to teach him the fundamental difference between attacking human feet (ouch!) and a mouse.
Is caring still a rewarding experience when the cared-for does not recognize the caring, or does not behave as we think a recipient of care should behave? I frankly don’t have an answer. Love for animals, and for cubs in particular, seem to be of the unconditional type, the one which is so hard to find in a human-to-human relationship.
The cared-for, enjoying the forbidden pleasure of human bedding