"I Want to Let My Cats Out" And Greater Issues of Independent and Collective Thinking

by Jennifer Paros

June 2013

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.

~ Coco Chanel


When I was a kid, it was common for cat owners to let their cats outside, at least in my small world. No one wanted them to get run over or harmed in any way, of course, but the fact that it happened sometimes was accepted - the way we accepted the possibility of accidents and illnesses of all kinds.

In my current world experience, keeping cats inside is more of the accepted and encouraged norm. There are many compelling and reasonable arguments for doing so; the statistics are persuasive. I have heard the average indoor cat lives into her late teens or even to twenty, whereas the average indoor/outdoor cat lives until she’s five. I’ve also read statistics about cat bird-killing that implies free-to-roam felines wreak havoc on environmental balance.

So, I’ve got hard facts before me. Yet I have two cats and my inclination is still to let them out. I want them to breathe the open air, to get to climb a tree, to experience full cat-ness ranging from The Great Mouse/Rat/Bird Hunt to a roll in the grass. Though it can seem unconscionable due to perceived risk, my thinking posits that even a year-long life of living a fuller breadth of experience is a better deal than twenty years of not. That’s my thinking; it’s just a story I made up (that may change) but it’s a story I like, I find true, and one from which I wish to create.

It’s important for each of us to determine the kind of thinking we want to use as a basis for creating our work and our lives now and to go for it. This process is valuable not just for us as individuals but also for us as a collective. It’s not just about marching to the beat of a different drummer; it’s about how following that beat leads us to fully contributing to humanity.

Often, we humans like to establish “the truth,” agree upon reality, and feel certain of the “right way” according to consensus. Though we are capable of conforming, each of us is wired uniquely for what we, in particular, have to offer the world. So we are all overtly or covertly chomping at the bit to forge our own path. And when we don’t, we lose energy and interest in creating our lives. For what’s the fun of creating a life based on external opinion and criteria? It would be like Picasso taking a poll every time he wanted to make a new picture:

1. What colors would you like to see in my next painting?

2. What do you think is the best thing for me to paint?

3. What is your favorite style of painting?

Instead of looking outside ourselves, we can value our unique input and then join together, experiencing the community and support often sought through conformity, but without the sacrifice of individual vision.

My idea of a perfect world really can't be designed by one person or even by a million experts. It's going to be seven billion pairs of hands, each following their own passions.

~ Jay Silver

Adrien Treuille, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon, is one of the designers of a video game called Foldit. Playing this game online, one group of gamers discovered a way of folding proteins that led to advancement in HIV research. Treuille is inspired by the idea of crowdsourcing – utilizing masses of people to bring new thinking to problems, in this case scientific challenges. His passion is to gather teams of people to brainstorm collectively and independently through video game play. Treuille recognizes the intelligence, skill set, and ingenuity of the individual and how powerful these abilities can be as a collaborative force.

Any authentic choice (including those regarding cats) has the potential to bring our singularity of perspective to light. We may think our differences in point of view and life vision don’t have far-reaching impact or value, but they are meant to be mined – destined, as they are, to be our greatest offering to the world.

Each of our voices is needed, not for how they’re alike but for how they’re different. Our unique perspectives are our purest potential contribution. Let us be guided by what personally calls to us, ideas that excite us, and beliefs about life that inspire us and from there, create new worlds together.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.

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