Opinion. A Lesson from Itty-Bit the Cat by Hal O’Leary

Opinion. A Lesson from Itty-Bit the Cat by Hal O’Leary

Opinion. A Lesson from Itty-Bit the Cat by Hal O’Leary. Another great article in the weekly section Just Hal on Yareah. Enjoy your Saturday!


Cat face. Photo by K Whiteford

I’m not exactly sure why, but for some eighty years I harbored a deep-seated prejudice against cats. My aversion to felines may have been caused by a bad dream I remember as a young boy involving a dead cat, or perhaps the house I had to enter each week to collect the weekly premiums on my debit as an insurance salesman in which there were no fewer than a dozen cats; the house was (to say the least) creepy, not to mention the scent.  Or then again, it may have been that little poem by Ogden Nash which I took such great delight in reciting:

“The trouble with a kitten is that

Eventually it becomes a cat.”

It wasn’t until the love of my life introduced me to her cat Itty-Bit, a most delightful and loving animal. She has unbelievably and completely won me over. Never would I have believed that such a thing was possible, but it has happened, and as I ponder this strange turn of events, I have come to realize that there may be other prejudices that have prevented me from enjoying other delights. It occurs to me that life is far too short to overlook any chance for enjoyment or education.  This thought, in conjunction with Ogden Nash’s poem, caused me to recall Mame’s line from the musical comedy “MAME”:  “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”

Then, of course, following this revelation, I have come to the realization that so many of us may fearfully be denying ourselves the great pleasure and knowledge to be found with associations we have avoided as the result of our prejudices.  Just as my ignorant dislike of cats has imposed a limit on my ability to enjoy their uniqueness, it would seem to me that the greater ignorance of the uniqueness of another human being, or what is worse a complete race of human beings, could virtually cripple any possibility for fully appreciating life as I’m sure it is meant to be.  On the surface, this all seems so obvious that it becomes difficult to understand why we are so beset at times with prejudice.  Why can’t we avail ourselves of the fullness that life has to offer?

Unfortunately, should this limitation on the potential for happiness be the only peril prejudice imposes, we would not in fact be facing the extinction of the human race that we do.  As mentioned above, ignorance lies at the base of most prejudice, but such a premise cannot account for the animosity and downright hatred often associated with that ignorance.  Ignorance alone might lead to indifference and avoidance, but that’s a minor problem.  There has to be something more sinister.  I have often thought that there is no greater motivating force than fear, but before we can assume fear to be the culprit, we must understand its source as it relates to prejudice.  We may begin by recognizing that something different in others, a difference of ideas or customs, can cause suspicion which could be perceived as a threat to our customary and comfortable way of life, hence a fear.  But here again, such a threat may lead to nothing more than avoidance.  I rather suspect there may be something more perilous at play here.

To begin at the beginning, there is, I think, a human tendency to base perceptions of ourselves on what we presume others to be, as opposed to what they might really be.  Being so painfully aware of our own fears, we make the mistake of assuming that others must not share those fears.  What we fail to realize is that their behavior is all too often nothing more than bravado in an attempt to conceal the same fears which we ourselves harbor.  Now, I suspect that there are those who become so adept at this concealment that they eventually find that they can intimidate others and thereby exert control over them.  This ability to intimidate, of course, allows the exploitation of others by those advancing their own sinister agendas.  Any means that can be found to increase fear will be to the exploiters’ advantage in terms of power.  The attainment of such power minimizes their own fear, which can ultimately lead them to believe that they are indeed superior, if not infallible.  We must understand just who these exploiters are and the terrible threat which they represent.

As we are painfully aware, all too many of them become our political leaders with nothing more than a desire for self-aggrandizement.  In order to increase their power, they find it advantageous to increase and play on our fears. What better way to do so than to create real or imaginary threats to our way of life?  While two of the channels open for them to accomplish this goal are the variations we find in color and cultures, religious differences seem to be the channel of choice.  Couple a universal fear of the unknown with threats to the very faith used to overcome that fear, and we have found a combination that never seems to fail.  Nothing has enabled the sociopaths of history to inflict the horrors of war on the human race more than the hatred born of a fear spawned by competing religions.  The fact that each claims the absolute truth casts a serious doubt on all of them, making each susceptible to manipulation by pitting one sect against another.  But should we really be all that concerned with the sociopath’s ability to enflame us to the point of killing those with whom we differ?  I fear we should, when extinction of the race becomes a real possibility because of it.  My re-interpretation of FDR’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” might be (rather than a fear of Japan) any manufactured fear that subjects the many to the manipulations of a few.

All of this from a reflection on my unwarranted prejudice against cats founded on nothing more than a dream and a silly poem!  Maybe now, I should move on to an appreciation of snakes and spiders. I have already gotten to a point where I can actually look at them on television.  My next unlikely step would be to try and sustain a look at the likes of a Dick Cheney or a George W. Bush, two of the creatures I view as the above-mentioned sociopaths.  With apologies, that may require a level of tolerance I have yet to reach.


By Hal O’Leary

It’s true our prejudice is born of fears.

And human beings, being what we are,

When we compare ourselves at times to peers,

Admittedly we’re not quite up to par.

And human beings, being what we are,

Regrettably, we never realize,

(Admittedly we’re not quite up to par)

Our peers are not the ones to idolize.

Regrettably, we never realize

We only see what they pretend to be.

Our peers are not the ones to idolize

With claims they stabilize society.

We only see what they pretend to be,

Allowing them control of what we think,

With claims they stabilize society

Before which we are likely just to shrink

Allowing them control of what we think,

Old prejudice becomes a mighty force,

Before which we are likely just to shrink

To find ourselves with little but remorse.

Old prejudice becomes a mighty force

When we compare ourselves at times to peers,

To find ourselves with little but remorse.

It’s true . . . Our prejudice is born of fears.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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