On Saber-Tooth Babies and Learning the Fine Relational Art of Compromise

I want a cat, but my mom is allergic. What can I do? – PandaBear900

Hello.  You may have gotten a question from my daughter asking about cats. My question is: How do I get my kids to stop asking for more pets?!  – Panda’s Parent

Dear PandaBear900 and her Parent,

It’s a tale as old as time.  When my great-great-great dogparents were lying about around the fire, their human pals Ugh and Oog were having the same conversation that you and your parent are having.

“Me want this.”  Ugh beats his chest and points to the confused-looking baby saber-tooth tiger sitting at his feet.

“Me don’t.”  Ooh stomps his foot and looks at the saber-tooth cub with shock and annoyance.

And so on it goes.  It’s one of those things that happens when you live in a community (and a family is a type of community) and you have a sense of self.

Ants and bees don’t have this problem.  They have the blessing (and curse) of hive mind, where they each have a task and do it without having personal wants, needs, and dreams to muse about.  No self, no problem. Individuality can be a real pain in the rump.

The lovely thing about being a human is that you have individualized feelings, dreams, wants, and needs.  It’s also the most annoying thing.  Because humans are pack animals–they live with other humans, who will also have individualized feelings, dreams, wants, and needs–ones that do not always intersect with your own.

For humans, conflict in relationships is not a matter of if, but more a matter of when and how.  And, this is the cool thing (that dogs totally get but humans struggle with): conflict isn’t bad.  Humans can use conflict to tear relationships apart, or to better understand self and others.  Conflict can be an opportunity to build a stronger bond between humans.  It’s all in how it’s done.

What is a non-animal-wanting parent to do when they have a child that is an animal lover?  And what is a child to do when they have a parent who is allergic to animals (and doesn’t want any more)?

“ME KEEP KITTY!”  Ugh furrows his big forehead and growls at his dad.  The saber-tooth tiger cub preens itself next to a warm log by the fire.

“THEN ME BASH KITTY!” Oog grabs his club and starts stalking towards the cub.

There wasn’t necessarily a problem in their relationship before this moment.  There were two different hopes and dreams, yes.  But it wasn’t an actual relationship problem… until they made it one.  The problem occurred because of how they responded to their different wants.

Ugh feels violated and angry.  Oog feels violated and angry.  Both are certain they they are the only ones who have the right to feel violated and angry.  Meanwhile, the saber-tooth tiger cub, having deftly evaded the swinging club, is just outside the cave, batting happily at a flitting dragonfly.

There are two key ingredients needed for peace and harmony when humans find their personal wants and needs colliding with those of someone else.

Understanding and Compromise.

Understanding

Understanding means that I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and, by doing so, I realize that how they feel and what they think makes sense.  As I pause to remember who they are and what they love, I understand that what the other person wants is, well, completely understandable.

Understanding means that I let it be all about them, just for a second, because that helps give me this thing called Perspective (which I will totally need if I want to respond to them in a warm and respectful manner).

Here is what Understanding does not mean:

It doesn’t mean that I have to feel their feelings.  I might not be able to.  I might not want to.  And, that’s okay, because I don’t have to (though, if I do, that’s called empathy, and it’s quite cool).  I just have to understand that their thoughts and feelings make sense, given how they feel and think about things.

It doesn’t mean that they are right (or wrong).

It doesn’t mean that I will agree (or disagree).

Seeking Understanding just means that I take a wee break from my fascination with what is going on inside of my own head and, just for a moment, pop over into their head.  When I am there, I recognize that, hey, I might feel the same way if I was in their position.  I understand, based on the context of their viewpoint and situation, how they could be seeing things.  That’s exactly how you will know when you have reached Understanding.  You will inwardly say to yourself,

“Huh.  How they feel (or think) makes sense.”

It’s not about right, wrong, good, or bad.  It’s about it simply making sense.  Given the context, given their personality, given the situation, you understand how they could think and feel the way that they do.  Viola.

Once I reach Understanding, I will naturally approach them in a much kinder way than I would otherwise.  Because now I am not viewing the other person an enemy (or as crazy, or wrong). They are simply another human with different wants.  And, gosh darn it, I like that fellow human!  Even though we don’t have the same wants.  With Understanding on board, it’s okay to have differences.

“Him not like saber-toothers.”  Ugh remembers, as he frustratedly kicks rocks outside of the cave.  “Make him always do the sneezing.  Me sure not like it when me is sick and does the sneezing…”

“Him like the fuzzy things.”  Oog throws another log on the fire and wipes his runny nose.  “Me did too, when I was little one…”

Understanding Ugh does not mean that Oog will stop being allergic.  And Understanding Oog does not mean that Ugh will stop wanting to have the kitty.  And yet it will mean that both can approach the other person in a softer way–not as enemies in a war, but as people on the same team.  Neither party need walk away angry and violated.  In fact, if they approach with understanding, both parties could end up feeling more bonded to each other…

That’s where the second important ingredient comes in.

Compromise

Your wants/needs conflict with the other person’s wants/needs, but it’s not a war, because you have Understanding, and that means they aren’t an enemy.  You have both realized that the other person’s wants/needs do actually make sense.  But, so do your wants/needs. What do you two do now?

It’s easy.  You figure out some way to find a Compromise.  That is the fine art of both parties figuring out where and what they are willing to give and where and what they are not.  It’s a meeting in the middle.  Where could these conflicting wants and needs intersect?  People who have Understanding for each other are interested in finding out.

First, a couple of fine points about Compromising:

  1. In Compromise, each person must remember that “needs” are needs–needs aren’t negotiable.  Stand your ground with your needs.  Compromise, when in the case of needs, centers on how the needs will be met, not on whether or not the needs will be met. For example, I need food and fresh water.  That’s not optional.  If I don’t get those things, it will cause harm to my body.  I also need to be treated kindly.  That is not optional.  If I am treated badly on a regular basis or abused, it will cause harm to my canine brain and psyche.  Does that make sense? So, I need to be fed, but I can compromise with my sidekick on whether she will feed me first thing when she wakes up, or after she has fixed herself a cup of coffee.  Obviously, I am fed after her coffee…
  2. Wants, however, are wants.  They are open, variable, not necessarily necessary by their very definition.  They may be desired deeply, but one is able to forego the want for a time, if needed, without harm to self or others.  For example, I want to go on a run right now.  Like, so bad.  My psychotherapist sidekick wants me to wait for a few hours because she is in the middle of typing out my paw-printed response to your letter.  Okay, I can do that.  (But, I do hope she hurries)!
  3. Another important point about Compromise: it’s not always 50/50.  Sometimes you will give a little more than you will get, and vice versa.  Compromise is the way of “meeting in the middle” in the way that makes the most sense given the context.  Like, sometimes, I want to go on a good run and she says that we aren’t going to because the weather is miserable.  Given the context and the fact that she doesn’t have fur covering her whole body like I do, it makes sense that I’m not going to get what I want that day.  I can accept that with a good attitude, given the context.  Well, barely.  For one day.  Because she has Understanding for my love of a good run, I can trust that she generally works to find a way for me to get a daily run, even though she may not always want to.  (However, if you find that you are always getting the short end of the compromise stick, such as always giving the other person what they want, and doing so at the expense of your own wants, that is a different problem.  That isn’t “compromise” at all, but that’s a blog post for another day).

In Answer to the Question…

Let’s look at your question, specifically, my dear PandaBear900 and her Parent.  You shared with me in further conversation that your parent has provided you with a lizard, a bird, and a dog.  A hypoallergenic dog that you are completely in love with.  (And I don’t need to remind you that dogs are ever so much better than cats, right? But I digress)…

Mom, you made made a big compromise, there.  Dogs can be quite a lot of work.  Well, not me, but other dogs, I’ve heard tell.  Vet bills, potty training, dog food, even chewed up walls (Hey! The only reason I chewed up that wall is because someone accidentally locked me in the bedroom when you all left.  That is SO not my fault!)…

Panda’s parent is frustrated with what she says is still a constant request for more pets.  The parent doesn’t share Panda’s love of animals, but has compromised and allowed animals in her home, despite her own personal inclination not to do so.  But…

Panda is begging for a cat.

Panda says, “It’s not enough. I want more.”

PandaBear900, you are still a kid and you are learning.  It’s only natural that you probably don’t know about this yet, so I will just tell you now, because it will save you a whole lot of problems later on down the road, and it will also help you out right now in the present moment.

It’s time for you to start practicing the lovely art of Understanding and Compromise.

If your parent refused to allow you any animals of any kind in any way and made no attempt to find ways for you to be around animals, I would be having a much different discussion right now.  Because it wouldn’t be cool if your parent didn’t try to understand you or looked for a way to compromise.  But…it looks to me like your parent has grabbed a hold of Understanding and of Compromise.  Your parent has given you both of those relationship-building gifts. There is still a problem, though, and it may shock you to learn that the the problem isn’t that you don’t have a cat.

What is missing here is your part.  The part where you seek Understanding and Compromise…and give it back.  And that missing piece on your part is hurting your relationship with your parent.

Families are a type of community, and in community, everybody needs to be a giver-and-a-taker, not just one or the other. If someone is just a taker, and not a giver too, it creates an ugly dynamic that isn’t fun for anybody.

Remember how they taught you how to take turns in preschool?  It’s the same with this situation.  Your parent sought to Understand you and then your parent made the choice to find a way to Compromise.  Now, it’s your turn.

Sound complicated?  Don’t worry.  It may shock you to hear this, but this process usually ends up feeling really nice by the time you are done (and you may even wish you had tried it a lot sooner).  Here are some questions that my psychotherapist friend says are good to journal about.  The questions about your own self will probably be really easy to answer, but the questions about the other person are often a lot harder!  It takes a bit of work to step into the shoes of another person, especially when you are new at it.

  •      What do I want (or need)?  Why might that be?
  •      What does the other person want (or need)?  Why might that be?
  •      How has the other person sought to Understand me?
  •      How has the other person sought to Compromise with me?
  •      How can I give Understanding to my parent? 
  •      How can I Compromise?

I have a sense that it might be a surprisingly warm and pleasant experience for you to think and journal about this. Instead of feeling like your rights are being violated, you might just be able to enjoy the warm feeling of feeling loved and cared for.  Your parent believes that your wants and dreams are important.  Instead of feeling frustrated, you might even end up feeling really lucky.

And, if you choose to express gratitude to your parent for her gift of compromise to you, that’s going to be amazing, because that will be you “giving” instead of just “taking.”  You will be doing the give-and-take, too.  Like a grown up.  A future grown-up who will probably own and enjoy a lot of cats.  Which, I can forgive you for because, hey, differences are okay.

It’s amazing what a little Understanding and Compromise can do.

“Me no have saber-tooth in cave.  Me sneeze too much.  But little Ugh wants friend.  Me got you this.”  Oog’s big hairy hands hold out a very large speckled egg.  Drops of sweat run down Oog’s face and he looks a bit frazzled.  Apparently, procuring this egg was complicated…

“Me put nice saber-tooth kitty back in its den…”  Ugh looks at the ground ,his voice wistful, but then looks up at his dad with affection and understanding.  “Me no want you to sneeze all day.”

Ugh reaches out and takes the gift-egg with both hands, struggling under it’s weight.  The egg quivers slightly, and then begins to crack.  They watch it hatch together, Oog’s arm on Ugh’s shoulder.  A large veiny wing pokes out first, and then, ever so slowly, a long toothy beak emerges.  The baby pterodactyl looks quizzically around the cave…

Comments? Hagrid is all ears.