Trust can be a sticky, scary business. Learning to trust ourselves, our lovers, our friends, our family members, can be lifelong work. In an ideal world, we trust them not to hurt us. We trust them not to lie to us. We trust them to be faithful and generous and kind. When one of these trusts is broken, it sends us spiraling into a frenzy. We feel betrayed. We are angry. We don’t understand why they are behaving this way. Why can’t they act like we think they should?
The other day one of my cats killed a baby rabbit in my yard, and I was angry with him. Later, I realized how ridiculous this was. I was angry at a cat for behaving like a cat. He was simply doing what cats do. Cats are hard-wired to hunt-catch-kill-eat. He doesn’t see rabbits or birds or mice as sentient beings like himself. He sees them as prey. He’s a cat.
How many times in our lives have we expected the people we know to stop acting like themselves? How many times do we get angry at a cat for being a cat?
Certainly there are times that we should expect children, friends, co-workers, or lovers to behave differently — but that isn’t what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is asking people to change who they are. There’s an old Maya Angelou quote: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
Personalities and habits are not likely to change without a great deal of personal commitment by the person himself. If someone makes a habit of cheating on his lover, he is unlikely to change the pattern — particularly if he’s done it more than once. If your boss takes credit for your work regularly, she is unlikely to stop doing it, even if you complain. If your kids always wait until the last minute to finish homework no matter how many times you remind them to start, they are unlikely to become the kind of student that gets things done ahead of time. These are cats. You can try to keep the cat inside, you can talk to the cat and try to explain why they shouldn’t hunt prey, but as soon as the cat manages to escape outside and away from your view, he will hunt down another bunny, bird, or mouse, and behave like a cat.
The same is true for people. They will not change who they are intrinsically no matter how much we cry, scream, or beg. When we engage ourselves in transactional trust, meaning “I will love you as long as you behave in X way”, we are robbing ourselves and our loved ones of acceptance and true love.
When we see people for who they are, instead of who we wish they were, or projecting a view of how we would like them to be, and then fighting about why they aren’t that way, our hearts can open, and we feel pure compassion for not just the ones we have relationships with, but all beings, without exception. When you stop trying to make a cat behave like something other than a cat, you are able to allow the cat to be who he is without judgement. You can still not like that he’s killing bunny rabbits, but stop expecting him to do anything differently.
Suffering is rooted in expectation. Love is rooted in trust and compassion. If we trust that the cats in our lives will continue to behave like cats, we can stop the cycle of transactional trust, and watch our relationships unfold into more meaningful connections.