Ever notice how “good” has become synonymous with “obedient”?
I took my cat, Phineas, to the vet a few weeks ago. When I picked him up, the vet and the nurse said to me, “He’s such a good cat!” They went on to tell me how he didn’t fuss or fight them and was very well-behaved.
Sometimes when Dru and I go shopping, people remark on what a good boy he is – he’s quiet and a little shy in public, so he tends to come across differently than he does at home.
This is related to fierceness, which we talk about a lot. Society has this myth wherein one must be complacent and obedient or one is labeled violent, and there’s no middle ground. But that’s stupid and wrong.
Fierceness is the middle ground.
You don’t have to be a doormat or a steamroller. You can stand in your power and hold your own boundaries without trampling anyone else, but we’re certainly not taught that. And it’s reinforced in the way we talk about our animals and our children – if they’re complacent and obedient, they’re good. If they whine, struggle, fidget, cry, or stand up for themselves, they’re bad.
If Phineas had fought the vet when she gave him a shot – if he’d attempted to defend his boundaries and protect himself – she wouldn’t have praised him or called him a good cat. More likely, she would have said he was a troublemaker or difficult. We do the same thing to our children. When a baby is quiet and doesn’t cry often, they’re referred to as a good baby, and vice versa, when a baby cries a lot, be it colic or grumpiness or whatever, they’re lumped in with the bad kids. If a child tires of being bullied and finally fights back, that child is often treated as the aggressor, even though they were defending themselves and their boundaries – often in the only way they know how.
Often, we justify boundary breaching with “it’s for their own good.” It’s certainly “for his own good” for Phineas to get a shot if he’s sick. It’s “for his own good” for Dru to take medicine if he’s really sick. But when they defend their boundaries, when they protest or struggle – that’s natural behavior! It’s not bad or wrong, it’s in our nature to defend ourselves against perceived attacks.
Getting a shot certainly seems like an attack, especially if you don’t speak the language of the shot-giver.
It’s also in our nature to protest when our state is out of balance. When a child has to sit still, it’s unsurprising when they get fidgety – but only the sitters get the praise.
I’d like fierce to mean good. I’d like to hear people say, “What a good cat! He defended his boundaries when he was attacked!” or “What a good girl she’s being; she’s crying because she’s hungry!” If we could shift our viewpoints when we look at our children and our animals, we could shift our viewpoints when we look at ourselves and each other – and fierceness would become commonplace.
I’d like that.