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February 16, 2020

6 Silly Words to Help us Meet People Where they Are.


A lion is not a pussycat. 

The lion and the domestic cat are both part of the feline family and therefore share some common characteristics: whiskers, claws, tails, and so on. On looking at a lion, one might have the brief feeling that they could step into the cage and cuddle it like a house cat. The obvious fact, of course, is: a lion is not a pussycat.

In life we often fool ourselves into believing that, in fact, a lion—in whatever form it may appear—is a pussycat. And this causes us some mental anguish.

Years ago, my wife and I were having some problems with our then six-year-old son. Our son naturally acted like a six-year-old, with the whole array of behaviors and attitudes. On one hand, he had the maturity and independence to make himself an omelette. But on the other, he still threw tantrums when he didn’t get what he wanted. When this happened I often found myself filled with bewilderment and frustration. I felt as though I had lost control as a parent. But the bottom line was: he was not conforming to my idea of how he should have been acting. A lion, after all, is not a pussycat. My son is not an adult.

Despite his young appearance, my son can act very adult-like. Not only can he cook a little, he can also have a metaphysical conversation about God. But despite this, he is just a child. Like the lion which shares many features of a pussycat, my son too has some mature attributes. But a lion is wilder than a pussycat, and my son is not as mature as an adult.

Similar is the issue I had with my English language students. They are international students between 18 and 20 years old, mostly from China. The difficulty I had was that as an English language teacher, I had mostly taught a mix of students from a wide variety of countries who were eager to communicate with each other in English. Overall, they had been very active students as well. My new students were the opposite. I was constantly confronted by their deafening silence. I constantly had to ask them to stop speaking Chinese in class. I was forever frustrated. I was expecting a pussycat to be a lion.

I failed to appreciate the conditioning of these students. They had been taught in classes of over 50, in which the teacher talks, and the students “listen.” They could sometimes get away with doing nothing, using their phones in class, probably even sleeping, because they could remain almost anonymous. This environment is not conducive to self-expression or critical thinking. And that’s why these students are less likely to be active and involved in my classes. This is not their fault. A pussycat cannot will itself to be a lion.

And then there is the most foolish example when we blame inanimate objects for our own mistakes. We kick our toe on the table leg and it’s not our fault, it’s the table’s! (Oh, how at those times I wish they made tables without legs.)

Obviously we should not get angry. We were not being careful enough. We were not exercising our human capacity to pay attention to our surroundings and move around objects in our environment. The table, on the other hand, was just being a table. Its nature is to sit motionless, regardless of what we are doing. A lion, too, is a lion. Its nature is to attack things.

So why get angry? The same can equally be said about people who do not conform to our expectations. We often get angry at things and people for being a certain way. The anger arises because things do not turn out how we want—life does not conform to our own preconceived expectations.

At times I still get impatient with my students, but I have to accept myself as well. I am, however, getting better at accepting their inertia. I no longer expect dynamic interaction in my classes. I wait more patiently for students to answer my questions. If they don’t answer, I give them some clues. If they still can’t answer, I give them a simple explanation.

What is the reason for this shift in my attitude? I’m not sure, but I think an acceptance of the nature of these students finally sunk in. With that, a sense of compassion also awoke in me—compassion for people who were conditioned to act a certain way, and are now faced with a completely new environment.

So too should I have compassion for my son who lives in an adult world. Perhaps too I may even extend this compassion to the table leg that doesn’t deserve to receive the wrath of my anger.

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Peter Gyulay  |  Contribution: 4,015

author: Peter Gyulay

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