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Reader Voices: Feel offended? Beware of 'kicking the cat'

By Susan Dayley

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, July 4 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

I appreciate it when someone doesn’t judge the sum of who I am based on one moment of ill judgment. In turn, when I encounter someone who says something they’ll regret later, or perhaps cuts in front of me in line, or commits some other, inconsiderate act, I say to myself, “They’re kicking the cat."

Before anyone texts PETA, “kicking the cat” is not necessarily literal. The concept is that an employer had a terrible start to his day — he found out he owed more taxes than he planned on, was held up in a traffic jam and, in the elevator, had to stand next to a woman who hummed to herself. When a report was not on his desk that he expected, he called in an employee and gave her “a piece of his mind.” This employee, bristling at the unjustness of the situation, in turn berated her assistant. After work, the assistant went home and yelled at his children because the house was a mess. And his youngest son, for reasons he didn’t understand, turned and kicked the cat.

We’re all negotiating the unpredictable road of life and sometimes our days are filled with more than just traffic jams. Sometimes there are some sharp boulders in the way. With all the possible challenges people are facing, all the hidden sorrows we’ll never know, it’s good to give each other a break and not take offense when we become the recipient of someone’s frustration.

My husband often works with people who are frustrated with the current markets. Many are angry and need a cat to kick. He lets them know that he understands and that he will do everything he can to help them. He is genuine and generous. His sympathy, knowledge and confidence calm them down. They feel that someone is finally in their corner. Sometimes that’s all people need.

When we respond with retaliation and self-justification to someone who offends us, nobody benefits.

When I was a senior in high school, I was president of the Symphonic Band. I planned and spearheaded fundraisers, met with a room of local business owners, organized the first-time back-to-school dance in the tennis courts, and later, the Christmas Band Ball — events that the whole school attended. I was an organizer, but I did not have a good sense of rhythm.

Marching “left, left, left right left” took concentration and someone to follow. When asked to play a song at the same time, let alone execute a turn, I tended to march like a camel filled with caffeine (my apologies to camels). One morning after a dismal marching band practice, the drum major stood in front of everyone and berated us for our efforts. She singled me out by name and began to “kick the cat.”

In my pride, I became angry. I said things in return that should have been edited and then, for several days, vented to anyone who would listen. Months later, I still despised her. One day I justified myself to my granddad and he said, “hating her doesn’t hurt her nearly as much as it is hurting you.” He was right; far too much of my time had been spent in a negative pursuit. I had taken her offense and compounded it.

Hosea Ballou, an American clergyman, taught in "An Examination of the Doctrine of Future Retribution, On the Principles of Morals, Analogy and the Scriptures," that “hatred is self-punishment.”

The Savior taught: “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer the other also” (Luke 6:27-29). That’s the challenge: to give kindness for anger, patience for inconsiderate acts and love for hatred.

We are also taught to be peacemakers. A frustrated person causes conflict, but one who has been shown empathy and concern will soften and give kindness in turn. The best peacemaker brings peace to a person’s troubled heart, and this prevents battles.

My garden yard has been assaulted this summer by bugs. They came in the zillions, eating at my Korean lilacs, spireas, hibiscus, viburnums and forsythias. It has become a battle ground and sadly, there have been casualties. (Sorry, I do not feel the need to turn the other cheek in this instance and offer them more shrubs to consume.) To combat this plague of grasshoppers, beetles, grubs and other creatures, we finally resorted to poison. Because of that, our cat has been banished to the safety of the basement.

He doesn’t know that it is for his own welfare and that it is cooler there than in the soaring heat of “his” garden retreat. He thinks he is being treated unjustly. He glares at me and scolds loudly whenever I go down. It’s a case of the cat kicking me. But I have compensated by giving him a good brushing with every meal. He then melts into a puddle of purring, placated by the attention.

The Dalai Lama said it succinctly: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

Susan Dayley is the author of various books and blogs regularly at susandayley.wordpress.com

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