It’s 1:14 am on a Wednesday morning, and I’m wide awake. The room is cold, and I’m alone in the apartment.
Sitting on the bed in front of me is Rex, our 10-lb., beige and white feline. Of the four of us (me, my fiance, Bodhi our other cat, and him), Rex is the independent one. The loner. In true cat form, he will do his best to stay away from you until he needs or wants something.
But after I got in bed tonight, he found his way up on the bed. He carefully placed himself into a tightly-curled ball and shut his eyes.
Noticing this, I took advantage of the situation. I sat up and started lightly scratching his head.
His tail twitched.
Seeing this, I then ran my hand down the length of his back.
He stretched out, legs asplay, and was purring like a madman.
Before this starts sounding like a cat adult film, I noticed that something had happened. The more he liked being petted, the more I wanted to pet him. And all of a sudden, the word “symbiotic” popped into my head.
“Symbiotic” is one of those words you learn in 10th grade and then don’t use again until it’s an answer (or question, rather) on Jeopardy.
When two creatures have a symbiotic relationship, they both mutually benefit from having that relationship. In that moment, Rex and I were having a symbiotic encounter. He liked being petted, and I liked petting him.
The converse of this is to have a parasitic relationship, where only one party benefits and one suffers. This happens when I pick Rex up, and being the independent loner he is, starts frantically meowing and screaming, “Put me down, moron! This sucks!”
This got me thinking. When I learned about symbiotic relationships, my teacher told us that creatures have one or the other — either they have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship (or one of the variants in between). I thought it was all or nothing.
But Rex and I don’t have that. Although I’m not a virus infecting him, and he’s not a saber-toothed tiger (despite any delusions he might have), there are times when he wants nothing to do with me.
So, these relationships are transitory. They can change. And sometimes even more drastically.
It got me thinking about our tendencies to put people into categories.
We think of some people as being “good” people. Bill is a good husband and father. Jane is a good person — she helps the homeless on weekends and gives money to charity.
Conversely, we think of others as being “bad” people. Amy cheated on her final exam, so she’s “bad.” Never talk to her again. That politician had an affair, so he’s evil and can’t be trusted.
But, people are people. I don’t like believing anyone is “bad” or “good,” but rather we all exist on a spectrum. And our lives produce symbiotic relationships and parasitic relationships. Sure, there are people who tend to fall towards one end of that scale or another. But people have different types of relationships, good and bad, with lots of people in their lives.
I can think of plenty of people who think of me as a complete jerk. I can think of just as many other people who would see me as a great guy.
If he could talk, Rex would tell you I’m plenty of both depending on the day and how much coffee I’ve had.
My point is this: look at people as people, and not as rights and wrongs. We all have moods, motivations, and things that gets us to do different things based on thousands of internal and external factors in our lives. You can have a great relationship with someone who has terrible relationships with others. But we’re doing ourselves and others a disservice when we don’t consider that very few people are good or bad…that most of us can, on one day be Mother Teresa and an egotistical schmuck like Kanye West on others.
Now, time to go annoy the crap out of Rex…