Nonviolence : The Question

The other day a blogger-friend posted news of one of her cats having been injured in a feline-fight.  I responded there, in one of my annoying amusing edgy-jokey moods, recommending that the injured cat should bone up on his nonviolence skills.

You who put up with me on this blog know that I tend to entertain myself with species-confusion from time to time annoyingly often often.  That was the tone I was going for there.

One of our other friends, though, chose to take the comment seriously, and raised these important questions:

“Is an act of violence really violence if it’s pure feline instinct and nature?  If there’s no malice in the action?  If my intent is not to HURT something, but to protect my territory or my meal or my self?”

My quick answer is:

“No.  I don’t call that ‘violence.'”

Animation. Frontal lobe (red) of left cerebral...

When we’re talking about cats, it seems clear that they – lacking the elaborate frontal cortex that is supposed to be our homo-sapiens pride and joy – usually operate by instinct:  Their conduct is basally inspired (from way back in the brain stem).  They act in a manner that’s clear, direct, and in line with core, species-specific survival skills.

But as many of us know, “even” cats can learn to modulate this kind of behavior.  We all recognize this posture:

And if we should be so foolish as to accept what, to the uninitiated,  might look like an invitation to rub the belly –  unless we have a relationship with the particular cat – we know what tends to happen next.

Except that over time, Bugs has learned to moderate this behavior.  In the appropriate moment, I know now that I actually can reach in there and rub his belly, without risking a trip to emergency.  He knows – he has learned, praise Cod – not to rake and bunny-kick with intent.  He can do that to my hand and arm, now, with his claws sheathed.  He’s learned.  (Praise Cod I cannot praise Cod enough on this one.)  (And I can’t stick around too long to enjoy this miracle, before the prey-drive kicks in and woe betide.)

That ability to moderate seems key, then, when we turn to our friend’s question as it touches on human behavior.  If we have been trained from an early age to feel our feelings, to include all of them in the canon of our experience, to be held with care when we’re frustrated, to be understood and connected-with – we can grow into patience, impulse-control, self-calming, and consideration for a wider picture than just our own internal frets and drives.

Which is what it means, to me, to practice nonviolence.

If, on the other hand, we have been trained from an early age to use force to repress our feelings, to wall off the “unacceptable” and “inappropriate” from our attention, to be punished when we’re frustrated, to be misunderstood and disconnected-with –

We will grow to become helpless before a tsunami of neurotransmitters run rampant.  We will have lost the potential, the skill inherent in our exquisite biological heritage, to return to homeostasis – to come home to balance, equanimity, and self-regulation.

And murder will out.

Marshall Rosenberg teaches in Nonviolent Communication that there are some occasions where “protective use of force” is required.  To stop a child from running in front of a moving car.  To take liberty from humans if they present a danger to themselves or others.

The Jesuits have devoted elaborate philosophical consideration to what constitutes a “just war.”

The novel charts Hitler's childhood from the p...

Had my maternal forebears not fled from Hitler, I would not be here.  (That’s him, to the left, as a baby.  When there was still time.)

These are deep and complicated conundrums for our species to work out.  Things are simpler for cats.  But things are not so simple for cats either.  If cats can learn – and there’s no “if” about it – then things are not so simple in this realm either.

Ask, ask, ask.  We will never arrive at the complete answer.  But in asking, we move closer to a life of the kind that I, at any rate, want to live.  So I’m glad our friend has asked.  I hope you’re glad too.


On behalf of his less-fortunate brothers and sisters, Bugs wants us to hurry up.  With some provisional answers at least.

About nadbugs

Anita loves cats. This must be because she, too, has had nine lives. She’s been dancing since she could walk, she was a commercial artist and advertising producer, she earned a third-degree black belt in Aikido, she is a drummer with the Afrique Aya Dance Company, she is an attorney, and she’s a meditator and a devoted student of Nonviolent Communication. She also spent one lifetime sidelined with a devastating back injury in 1992. Since then – FELDENKRAIS METHOD® to the rescue. The FELDENKRAIS METHOD is all about dreaming concretely – thinking intelligently and independently by way of a gracious and kind physicality. The work affords all who study it a process by which to reach, with movement, into the mind and the heart, to make nine lives into one whole being.
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44 Responses to Nonviolence : The Question

  1. minlit says:

    Excellent points, beautifully presented as always. I have a question. I think we come from roughly the same perspective on things. And this one kind of overlaps with the last few conversations / threads / comments. They’re going all over the place. Like my comments… Question: Do cats need recrafting the way people do? Are they not as they are meant to be – (taking fully on board your point about interaction and mutual acceptability within relationships, be it with each other or with us)? Are our expectations of them the things that need recrafting? OK, that’s three questions. I know, I know….
    Way to start a real discussion, Nadbugs!

    • nadbugs says:

      “Cats in no need of recrafting”? Check — No need!
      “Cats are as they are meant to be, provided mutuality in relationship”? Check — Perfect, as long as they deploy their learning capabilities in our direction now and then, well, OK, in the few situations where life and limb and sleep enough for health are endangered; let’s not push our luck here.
      “Our expectations are the things that need recrafting”? Double-check — Could not agree more and boy, this one has been tough with this Bean.
      All minlit questions contain their own answers and are, therefore, most satisfying!

  2. Dianda says:

    Well written! Really great!

  3. typist for JhaJha, the Petite Panther says:

    I love this, Anita! You rock! And I love minlit’s response! I don’t feel up to jumping into the discussion just yet because I still “require extensive ear- and chin-skritches”. And another cat nap. And my amygdala rewired. (I can just imagine some guy searching for tags on Princess Amidala and winding up with this post! Ha!)
    I appreciate you all! I’ll jump in soon…

    • nadbugs says:

      We wish you as many scritches and naps and rewired amygdalas as you need — why should “mandalas” get all the attention (are you listening minlit), we women need them attended-to as well. Well, you can see how my mind goes. Therefore I am totally amused to think I can spread a little distraction and chaos with my “amygdala” tag — hey guys searching for Princess Amidala, welcome to my world bwahahahah . . . . Typist, you just jump in when you can, coz we want to hear.

  4. lauowolf says:

    My late and always-to-be-lamented Felix cat was known to us as the Buddha cat.
    And not merely in tribute to a certain familiar globular shape.
    Felix didn’t have a fighting bone in his body.
    He played with the chase with the local raccoons.
    Seriously, all of them running about in a little pack in the garden.
    I’d call him to come in at night and they’d ALL come running, and I’d actually feel guilty that I wasn’t letting the whole lot come in.
    Once when I opened the back door, there he was sitting in yer basic meatloaf position, side by side with a similarly meat-loafed possum, just sitting on the doormat keeping warm and watching the night.
    And it goes without saying that every cat on the block was his buddy, including the strays he’d bring home.
    “It’s cool. She’ll give you a meal.” And I would.
    The only time I ever saw him less than utterly mellow was when I had to pill him, at which point he appeared to be able to turn around completely inside his skin and walk off in the opposite direction, tut-tutting.
    It’s lucky that he as never sick, because I never could get a pill in him, and I’ve been successfully pilling cats all my life.
    He never bit, or ever raised a paw or his (tiny) voice, but just employed a ninja-like refusal to allow me to do something so wrong.
    Miss that guy.

    • minlit says:

      He sounds amazing. In fact he sounds just like a cat in a kids’ story I wrote some years back. Just like him. Mojo has many of those tendencies too, despite the fun I have depicting him as businessmog of the year!
      BTW, I have THE foolproof way for giving pills. It’s called roast lamb. 🙂

    • nadbugs says:

      O heaven. What a wonderful little meatloaf; what a wonderful memory to share. Thank you, lauowolf. I love this blog-writing thing. Who could not, with conversations like this.

      And, minlit, isn’t it fun to imagine that your imagination was plugged right in there with the little meatloaf. Now I ask you to do this: Please write us a story about business-moggy Mojo bringing Buddha-mind into the corporate world. We need this bad in this country. Corporations rule the world over here at the moment. We need to put cats in place in their stead. We should probably start under deep cover. Do or did you ever watch that Beeb show “MI-5”? I am addicted. Ros has just been “buried,” but not really, so maybe we can get her under contract now she’s free — she’d be my choice — she reminds me of a cat, actually, she has ice in her veins (except she ended up falling for Adam; tsk!! that may have been her downfall as a spy if you ask me . . . . I think probably nobody’s asking. But the question should be asked, when we vet her for the position.). Vet!! I didn’t mean that!! Let’s say when we screen her for the job. “Vet” has no part of this picture.

  5. Thank you. I actually knew you were kidding in the initial nonviolence comment, but it made me think that you might have an interesting viewpoint on the question my human has asked herself daily since adopting me. And you didn’t disappoint. 🙂 And minlit’s follow up questions are great, too. Thank you both.

    My human hasn’t slept through the night since January 5, 2009. Kitty & I fighting keeps her up during the wee hours, and I know she spends a lot of that time contemplating the question of why we fight and how to stop it. Every time she comes to the conclusion that the problem is pure feline instinct (and therefore not violent and less unacceptable in her mind), she starts to feel helpless because if it is instinct, then it cannot (or should not?) be re-crafted or un-taught. But she can’t stand the thought that cute furballs could be malicious and violent… So around and around her thoughts spin, and she can’t ever reach a conclusion that satisfies her.

    I have been taught to poop in a box, to come when I’m properly summoned, to calmly allow my human to groom every nick and cranny. So, why can I not be taught that just because Kitty runs from me doesn’t mean she’s prey? Or that I shouldn’t be upset if Kitty wants to eat because there are 2 dishes with food that are constantly refilled?

    Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. Please keep me posted if you figure out the final definitive answer to the question… Seeing Hitler as a baby is a little creepy, isn’t it?

    • Oops – nook & cranny. My human does her best to avoid grooming Nicks, with special attention to NOT groom any Saint Nicks. That’s because she’s too busy working on my NOOKS and crannies.

      What is a cranny?

      • nadbugs says:

        Somebody much smarter than I says: “c.1440, supposedly from M.Fr. cran ‘notch, fissure,’ from crener ‘to notch, split,’ from M.L. crenare, prob. from L. cernere ‘to separate, sift’ (see crisis). But OED casts doubt on this derivation.”

        I like the idea of a “crisis of doubtful fissures,” don’t you? Especially when applied to grooming cats?

        And about the rumination, when the kitties are fighting — Oh dear — thinking about things can be like this, can’t it. I wish I knew the answers . . . . I hate the thought you don’t get the sleep you need. Did the MBSR body-scan not help? That works wonders with me . . . . That prey-drive is really something. Like I said in the post, Bugs can modulate it a little, in short bursts, but when I can feel it coming on, sometimes the only strategy that works is for me to vacate the premises — and that’s not really an option in the wee hours . . . . Thank you for asking the question, in jest or otherwise — I love such questions, provided the body-scan kicks in when I need to stop thinking about them — And BTW, I would love you guys to say more about why the Hitler picture creeps you out. I have a very different reaction — I think I feel an anguished wonder, when I look in those eyes and ponder what on earth must have happened to that poor child . . . . and I hasten to add, that is the only circumstance in which I’ve been able to imagine even the slightest whisper of empathy. None other, no, none.

      • Realistically, it’s probably the sound of cats fighting that keeps her awake, and not so much the spinning thoughts. Body scans do little to muffle the sound of toppling furniture, breaking pottery, and screaming Kitty…

        Hitler as a baby is creepy because he looks so NORMAL. It’s difficult to think that a perfectly normal baby can turn into a mass-murdering lunatic. How exactly does that happen???

        • nadbugs says:

          Ah. Letting go of attachment to materiality, striving; instead, directing attention to the stillness between the cells — I see, now, that these practices might not be quite equal to the Cat Mayhem Midnight Challenge after all. As for little Dolphie, well, wouldn’t the world be a safer place if we did know what happened to him . . . . Alice Miller has some ideas; do you know her work?

    • I found the photo of little Adolf a little creepy, too.

      I don’t know if I “taught’ JhaJha to poop in a box or if she just found it convenient. She seems to like arranging the litter into pyramids and then rearranging and then doing her business.

      I don’t really think I taught her anything. She is a little beastie who teaches ME how to meet her needs. She doesn’t come when properly or improperly summoned. She doesn’t tolerate having her nooks and crannies groomed. But she will snuggle up with me whenever she feels like it — which is very often. And she has me trained to give her breakfast at 7am sharp so we need to go now…

      • nadbugs says:

        Bye, Typist. Before you go, tho — what a picture that is, sculpting and rearranging litter. Bugs does the same thing. So strange. And likewise with the bloody-mindedness independence thing. I keep trying to tell myself that the intransigence independence makes the rare occasional snuggles all the more precious. Sometimes that attitude works . . . .

      • Wouldn’t it be funny if our cat brains could only hold a finite amount of information, and my first family filled me up with things like coming when I’m called, proper postures and positions for grooming everything, pooping in a box, building sand castles in same box, and counting the pieces of food in my dish so I can alert everyone when the food is low? And now there’s no space for me to learn common courtesy towards elder cats?

        • nadbugs says:

          Well, Mckmf — speaking from my experience as a highly challenged Bean — it sure can feel like if we need to put more in, we need to do a core dump — but I think the problem is, let’s see. First of all, feeling is unreliable. We may feel we have reached capacity, but that may be explained not by inherent limitation but, instead, by us having used ineffective methodology. For example, pushed ourselves so hard we’re exhausted; the capacity’s there but we’ve not got the energy to sustain the alertness necessary to connect with it. Or, in the case of cats, maybe we just run out of time? Doesn’t that seem possible? If we paid attention more closely, over more time, we could find ways to awaken more capacity in both cat and human, together? I’m going with these theories and seeing what happens. I know, so far, that if I refine my attention, and I “spend” — actually it’s more like “invest” — more of that refined attention on Bugs, over time I get dividends. Not in ways I could predict, tho. Sometimes the change is in me, how I feel; sometimes I can discern the change in Bugs’s eyes, or in his changed behavior? We’re really in unknown territory here. So I’m all the more grateful to you for holding paws!

  6. minlit says:

    You know I read somewhere in your blog that Bugs was about 6 months old when you met him, is that right? Apparently it’s harder for kittens who have not been handled *gently* from a very early age to fully accept human affection. I think that’s Stripey’s problem too. That and a bad attitude. And living with Brian doesn’t help. They’re just like the same being as two different species.

    • nadbugs says:

      Oh my goodness. You have got your hands full. Yes that is right, six months @ “gotcha.” My latest strategy to force my affection on Bugs is to grab him and carry him around clutched to my chest. Lovely boy that he is, he tolerates it just barely and I get a little affection-fix. Sure it requires force. Come on. I must have affection, I demand affection, I will have affection. OK? OK? Where is that boy. Bugs!! Get over here now and I mean now!! Hmm. Didn’t work.

      Try that with Brian and let me know how it goes? Fun picture.

      • minlit says:

        Mmm. If only he were of a size where I could use that technique on him! I did try similar tactics for several years, but have given up….There’s only so much rejection a grill can take. Much easier to just go an snoothe a cat. Parker and Toko are always up for it! And bearing in mind, of course, that he’s fine, it’s those pesky expectations…..;)
        @Pedro – you had a first family?

  7. Melanie says:

    Oh that I could teach certain of my cats non-violent communication! I guess that everything is a process…

    I think the baby picture of Hitler is creepy because he looks like any other innocent baby. Like our babies. (Well, and I mean “our” as a society, since MY babies all have fur and claws and look nothing like that!) Which is a sharp reminder that innocence can be lost. Our babies can grow up and be monsters.

    And on that rather solemn note, I go to bed. It’s been an emotionally draining day…

  8. All valid points. We reap what we sow. Comes to mind. Raising children to be compassionate individuals that practice restaint rather than acting out every emotion is critical and too few parents seem to want to put in the time necessary to accomplish this. The result is adults without the tools needed to function well in society.

    I’m going to stop now, but I wanted to say I liked the post.

    • nadbugs says:

      I am in awe of your willingness to apply yourself, Miss DR — I feel graced by that willingness here. Friends, this writer was just Freshly Pressed. Her blog is wonderful; I’ve subscribed. So this comment comes in the midst of a tidal wave of — well, work — and here Miss DR is anyway, walking the walk. A real role model for me! Thank you, Miss DR!

  9. MTVA says:

    Good Morning, All. I’ve been lurking and enjoying all y’all’s writing for some time now and finally feeling brave enough to expose my dinky intellect among you wizards. This is my favorite blog, the most deeply thoughtful and yet so hilariously funny one I know of.

    I’m Marilyn, and my two boys are Jonathan and Alvin. Alvin loves to chase and attack Jonathan so I’ve been following with great interest this Prey-Drive thing, thinking that must be what’s going on here, too.

    My favorite Bugs photo is of Himself up on top of the door – Alvin has been up there, too, only looking much more foolish than bugs!

  10. nadbugs says:

    Oh Marilyn, a huge hearty welcome to you!! I laughed and cheered at what you say here! I am so thrilled you stepped forward! I so cherish what you say about us — and I also really want to underline that for me, this blog is all about community. I have such wonderful companions here. They keep me company and they help me connect with the information I need to stagger along with this Himself Mr. The Bugs. Who is a handful as you probably know by now. The prey-drive info came, through one of our readers, from Mr. Jackson Galaxy — if you haven’t checked him out, I urge you to do so. He’s terrific on prey drive, and also aerial cats like Alvin and Bugs, and also anything else to do with the humane-human-cat interface. Search his name on this blog here, and then jump to the links I supply — and you’re off into a wonderful quirky-yet-useful world. Halleluyah! And I am so very very pleased to meet you here.

  11. minlit says:

    It might be worth a try!!
    PS, on the Hitler thing, I have a theory that if he’d been accepted to art college on one of the several times he applied, the world would have had a very different 20th century.

    • nadbugs says:

      Oh do you really think so? His eye was so stiff, so demandingly literal — No imagination. Can you teach that? I would say “yes” — but would tend to doubt that Hitler would have been attracted to the kind of thinking that would lead him in that direction. After all, Bauhaus was there; expressionism was there; Weimar was there — he called all that “degenerate.” It’s a deep, deep subject, is it not. Can you see him practicing Enso? [snort]

  12. minlit says:

    I’m not saying it would have made him Picasso, but it might have distracted him for long enough to take his mind off world domination!!

  13. Pingback: Now Is the Nonviolence Moment. A brief report from David Swanson |

  14. You lost me a little bit there at the end (perhaps only because I need more coffee)… but I have always wondered why the seeming invitation to rub a floofy belly gets met with bunny kicks and claws.

  15. MTVA says:

    I’m inclined to go with the trap theory. It may just be the perverse nature of cats…flaunting their impossibly cute tummies at us, then locking on with their claws when the weak human can not resist the temptation. Maybe it’s all a game with them?

    • nadbugs says:

      I’m smiling, Marilyn — a game, based on predation? Cats’s creativity, knowing we ourselves aren’t prey, so they make up this interaction as a blend of instinct and learned relationship? I really, really delight in that idea . . . . I prefer it to perversity . . . . Oh what the heck. I can go with perversity too. It’s also fun to think of them as seductive little booglers . . . . It’s all good, by me. I LOVE CATS!!!

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