Of Cats and Cucumbers

There has been a viral trend all over the internet the past couple of years that some see as hilarious and some see as offensive. It is one of those great things that have divided people all over the world. It is the great battle between cucumber and cat (Click here to watch a competition between cucumbers and their feline foes.).

Yes, these videos are made up of people placing a cucumber near their cats, which then either causes no reaction at all, or, has the impact of lighting a quarter stick of dynamite next to the poor kitty’s food bowl. The reaction of the pet owners to the jumping mouser is invariably riotous jollity. After watching several hours of these videos, for research reasons, of course, I started to think about the difference between the person, who finds this situation funny, and the poor cat, who is terrified.

There has been a lot of furious debate as to why this happens. Some internet scientists say that the cat instinctively sees something which is long and thin and thinks it’s a snake. Others say that the cat is simply not expecting a cucumber in its immediate surroundings and, therefore, is startled to the point of jumping several times its height. Either way the reason that we find it funny is that we clearly see that this is a cucumber, whereas the cat sees it as something threatening. Many philosophers, including Immanuel Kant, believed that incongruity is at the root of the things we find funny. It is the very difference between our benign apathy toward the average cucumber and the cat’s terror at the well meaning fruit that makes us laugh.

That a cat sees the very same thing that we do and has a different reaction, is nothing more than a funny joke. However, differences between human perspectives causes much more strife and much less laughing. Many couples that come to my office and sit on my couch struggle with this very idea. They see the world in two very different ways. They fight over the behaviors that come from these different perspectives, and they continually bash their metaphorical heads against the wall of their partner’s reality, attempting to change their perspective to their own. This is the mistake at the core of many of our conflicts. We would never seek to convince the cat that a cucumber is not dangerous, nor would we attempt to persuade a human being that we need to protect ourselves from the extreme danger of the savage cucumber fruit. We accept that they view the world from different sides, and in order to live side by side with other species, we would simply agree to not place cucumbers in their immediate vicinity, and the cats would agree that the cucumbers can reside in the refrigerator and on our plates.

The same can be true about our relationships. Reality is not all that relevant in a relationship, or rather an objective reality is not all that important. What is important is the reality of each partner and how we behave around that. This is true in friendships, and I would venture to say, on a more macro level, within our communities. The level of discourse between us has sunk to the level of cat vs cucumber. People have been locked in the echo chambers of social media and black and white definitions of the news that caters to what we want to hear.

What we need to do is accept that there are certain parts of our realities that can’t be altered or moved by shouting or bombarding each other with “information”. It’s like trying to convince a cat of the harmlessness of a cucumber.

About the Author
Binyomin Yudin is a psychotherapist in private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio Born in Harrisburg, PA, and raised in Baltimore MD, he attended several yeshivos after high school eventually landing at Ner Israel in Baltimore until his marriage in 2002. He spent several years learning at kollelim in Israel, and after a stint in the rabbinate in St Louis, settled in Cincinnati, OH, with his family.