Repulsion is part of diversity

One thing I have learned from living on a farm is that you are not really experiencing diversity unless you are also experiencing repulsion.

We each have lots of assumptions about what is right and wrong, how the world works, how people should act in a civilized community. When faced with true diversity – that is, diversity of experience — we have to allow our assumptions to be challenged. It’s hard to not feel some repulsion for the person who challenges our core assumptions.

But it’s clear to me that diversity in the workplace is difficult to achieve because we must ask so much of ourselves in order to achieve it. We must allow ourselves to experience repulsion and keep an open mind while doing that.

And now, I will write about cats; specifically, the 150 comments people left on my last post about why I killed my cat. Last week I thought I was not really writing about cats because I was writing about dead cats. And anyway, really I was writing about the moral problem of paid links. But in fact, I still have the problem that I now find myself doing the very worst, low level, terrible job on the internet: writing content about cats.

In the business world, cats are the topic-non-grata. If I go into an investor meeting to discuss business models for online content, it takes only about five minutes before I hear, “I just don't want to see posts about cats.”

But I think we can all be better at thinking in diverse ways, in diverse environments, if I indulge in one more post about cats. So here I go.

1. Don’t shield yourself from complex thinking. If you think killing my cat was absolutely, hands down a terrible decision, then you probably don't have the same moral code I do. So maybe you should just stop reading my blog, but probably you should just not let me take care of your cat. Listening to people who have ideas that are patently different from your own make you think harder. (This is why I read publications like Al-Jazeera and Car & Driver.)

2. Diverse ways of thinking can co-exist only rarely. With an open mind.
Hard-core questions of morality have no right answer. Can a mother kill someone to feed her child? Can a mother kill one child to save another? Have you never heard these questions from college Ethics 101? These are real issues, and behavioral economist Dan Ariely, author of the book Predictably Irrational, shows that how we answer these questions has more to do with how we are born—how we were hard-wired to see the world—than what is objectively right and wrong. Some people will say killing is wrong, so you can’t kill anything ever. Other people will see this moment as an exception.

This New Yorker cartoon hits the spot because the intersection of humans and animals is fraught with complex moral systems:

Often there is no right answer – for cats, children or meat-counter decisions – but you challenge yourself more in life if you open your life up to people who are wired differently than you are, without trying to squash those differences.

3. Understanding moral context requires placing oneself in unfamiliar situations. Hey, all you cat commenters, have you lived on a farm? Do you understand the problems with farm cats? Do you understand there is a moral question of whether we should even feed babies who are born in the dead of winter? (We feed them.) Do you understand that most cats cannot be spayed because they can’t be caught?

Our favorite goat broke his leg. The Farmer wanted to slaughter him for meat. He is a little young, but the farm is a business, and financially it makes more sense to take the meat while we can than to bet on that the goat will return to good health. We have a lot of goats, and if they were all pets, we could not afford to feed them. So goat decisions on our farm are often business decisions.

But because our farm is a mix of city people and country people — people with vastly different sets of experiences — moral decisions are often more complex on our farm than other farms. In the end, Melissa decided she wanted to treat the goat as a pet. She loves the goat. So she took responsibility for nursing him back to health. The odds were not good, and the splint is made of two nail files, but she was devoted. And slept with him in the barn.

3. Real diversity is personally challenging. Here are things I thought were patently wrong before I lived on the farm: Drowning cats. Shooting possums. Peeing on the front lawn. Feeding sub-par food to animals. Confining animals in labor. Branding cattle. Notching an animal's ear. I could go on forever.

Whole Foods has a five-tiered program to let customers know where their animal products comes from. There are five hoops farmers can jump through to get rated by Whole Foods. The Farmer — my farmer — absolutely loves his animals and he will spend all night in a rain storm to keep one alive for one more day. But he doesn't even meet the first standard—the bottom rung—with Whole Foods.

Now that I live on a farm, I see both sides of everything. People are not morally depraved. They are living in the context of their own community. We all grow a lot more personally by trying to understand people rather than judging them.

It’s no easy task, though. I know this myself, because I still hate cat people.

Sorry but it's the truth. People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships. People who think their cat gives them what they need for companionship are probably right, because they are so underdeveloped emotionally. I am not alone in my thinking. Here is a great parody of a dating video as the perfect illustration of my point:

[youtube_sc url= width=549 rel=0 fs=1]


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    • subject-verb agreement
      subject-verb agreement says:

      Kant’s categorical imperative only works in a vacuum. it failed to give us an adequate system for determining moral value/correct action. and it treats human morality as being somehow divorced from the day-to-day events and personal beliefs/perspectives/desires of humans. The best we can do is use it at a talking point in crafting a moral strategy that can actually work in our world.

      or were you being contrary? you’ll get more miles from that Philosophy degree by making a paper airplane out of it.

      • JB
        JB says:

        “Kant’s categorical imperative… treats human morality as being somehow divorced from the day-to-day events and personal beliefs/perspectives/desires of humans.”

        Correct. That’s kind of the point.

        “The best we can do is use it at a talking point in crafting a moral strategy that can actually work in our world.”

        Incorrect. Or, rather, really really incomplete.

        “you’ll get more miles from that Philosophy degree by making a paper airplane out of it.”

        Stupid. I don’t have a philosophy degree. But I disagree anyway. You’ll get many more miles with a philosophy degree than, say, an MBA. If the miles you’re trying to run are knowledge of truth, ethics, and aesthetics. Some people actually – jump back! – value things other than money. (Although as Brother Tevye said – it’s no shame to be poor; but it’s no great honor, either.)

    • subject-verb agreement
      subject-verb agreement says:

      hey – i spent 4 years and ~$45K to be able to trash talk [fellow] Philosophy grads :)

      but my cut was to your laziness in attempting to engage in philosophical debate without actually saying anything.

      • JB
        JB says:

        Gotcha. I knew you were a Phil grad just from the comfort you had in beating Phil up (most folks are too intimidated).

        As for laziness – well, I suppose I thought of just mentioning another way to look at ethics (that isn’t so relativistic) less as laziness and more like, I know no one and their lawyer is intested in Kant, so I won’t go into it here, but here’s a link.

  1. CL
    CL says:

    “People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships.”

    Or perhaps it is you who is unable to connect to something that isn’t human, can’t cope with the complexities of a non-human relationship. Not all animal people – those who regard animals as more than animals – think their pets give them all the companionship they need. I don’t know any cat people, actually, who think that.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      So, by analogy, since you admit that your Aspergers causes you issues in handling the complexities of human relationships, therefore, you (PT) must consequently be treating animals like humans?

      This doesn’t quite work logically.

    • Curmudgeon
      Curmudgeon says:

      You live a shamefully sheltered undiverse life if you have never met “that cat lady”.

  2. Jo
    Jo says:

    Your love for the farmer has clearly messed up your perceptions of the relationships between humans and animals. I don’t know if it is an aspergers thing, but to me you are travelling down the road of loosing your feeling towards sentient life.

    • Jani
      Jani says:

      I totally disagree. P is pointing out a lot of valid truths about the relationship between humans and animals that one learns from living on a farm. In fact, you could argue that her mixed emotions about killing the cat, as well as the thought she put into her response to all the cat comments, showcases a solid depth of feeling towards sentient life.

      There is a large difference between the cruel and unusual treatment of animals that is displayed by one who possesses no regard for sentient life, and the practical realities of co-existing with sick or already dying animals.

  3. marlene
    marlene says:

    At least this post is not as awfully clumsy as the previous one.

    Clearly you seemed suprised by the comments. Hopefully next time you’ll talk about moral (even related to cats), you’ll know it deserves a longer than usual post, and not a tiny one. It’s like you asked for controversy to me, and that the overall post was …easy. Not even though-provoking. It that sense, if you weren’t able to get you point across, you failed. It’s OK, it happens. But be aware of it.

    I also think you didn’t get what people were trying to tell you, neither. But I don’t feel like trying to explain their/my point again. We are your readers, we are your audience with everything it involves, simply do not forget that.

  4. Angela
    Angela says:

    Fabulous post. The way people condemn and judge reminds me of how those who have never taught one hour of school know exactly what is wrong with education and exactly what teachers should do and how great things would be if they were in charge. I am looking forward to the comments from those same folks. This is going to be fun!

    • sophie
      sophie says:

      So true Angela. The people who gave me the most parenting advise when I had my kids where the ones who never had any of their own. Go figure!

  5. Gwen Nicodemus
    Gwen Nicodemus says:

    When I read your post where you mentioned killing your cat, I yelled over to my husband, “Read this. Her vernacular is similar to mine.”

    I recently killed my cat. He was a good cat for 15 years and senile for 3. I’d been wanting to put him down since he went senile. My husband was opposed. He finally gave in after the cat stood up and urinated on the sofa.

    I have told several people that I killed my cat. After they look at me like I’m a cruel psycho, I give them a little more info.

    “Oh, you euthanized your cat.”

    “I took him to the vet and she administered an overdose of anesthetic. I killed my cat. Let’s not sugar coat it.”

  6. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    “People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships.”

    I believe this is the Aspergers talking. Perhaps you should re-read your own post and expose yourself to people who are real “animal people” to get a different perspective. Not all of us are obsessed with our pets, but many of us would have gone much further than you chose to with your own pet to continue a life that was still viable, even if only to assuage our own guilt when the real time came. In my cushy, mountain life, animals are not disposable. And that opinion has nothing at all to do with my relationships with other human beings.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward says:

    “People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships. People who think their cat gives them what they need for companionship are probably right, because they are so underdeveloped emotionally.”

    Some people can’t cope with the complexities of human relationships -particularly auties so I find it ironic you say this when you purport to be one. People who do this are seeking meaningful relationships in the only ways they can; that it doesn’t meet your definition of validity could be cause for pity. Pity for them or for you I can’t say.

    You’ve always been controversial but until now, not uncharitably unkind or gratuitously mean and I fear it speaks volumes about your character. I respect your opinion but not the defensive posture you’ve used to express it.

    Frankly, when I read the post, my first thought was that you were using the cat. It made a nice sequel to tweeting your miscarriage in a board meeting. The cat and his death deserved more dignity than you were willing or capable of giving.

    And with respect to being underdeveloped emotionally… pot meet kettle. Kettle meet pot.

  8. sophie
    sophie says:

    Such a good post Penelope. This is why I read you, because I so often disagree-am even repulsed sometimes-but am forced to examine all sides of the issue.

    My side on cats: I live on a farm and what you say about them is true. They’re a necessary evil in that they keep away the rodents. Yet they overpopulate, are disease-ridden and impossible to catch. The minute we catch one and neuter it, it would climbs in an auger and gets knocked off. I know this sounds harsh, but this is reality on the farm. And this doesn’t make farmers bad people any more than it makes city people bad for walking past street beggers and not giving them money (I can never walk past because, hey, these are PEOPLE after all).

    About the goat: I grew up on a hobby farm and raised sheep. They were pets. When I tried to raise sheep the same way as an adult, meaning I would do everything possible to keep them alive, especially babies whose mother’s rejected them, my farmer husband pointed out I wasn’t doing them any favors. I wasn’t allowing animals to be what they are – animals. I hate to admit it, but he was right. Over time, and generations of assisted pampering, my flock became genetic wimps. The ewes couldn’t lamb on their own and the babies didn’t have the instinct to nurse. I really had to toughen myself up, in order to toughen my flock.

    About diversity: I’m very religious. But the inability to view diversity is what bothers me about my religious peers. Many religious people have not studied Ethics 101, as you say, and they do not consider the complexity of moral issues. They only see things as black or white, my view (right) or nothing (everything else is wrong). Because of this inability to see outside their box, they lack compassion, understanding and the opportunity to reach out to the very people who need them.

    Lastly, to apply this to the workplace: This post fits so well for the office. We’re often repulsed by ideas new to us. Or people different than we are. Or anything unfamiliar. Hey, at least take time to examine the diversity. Don’t form an opinion or base a decision without seeing all sides of the issue.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love this comment, Sophie. Thank you. Your image of walking past a beggar is on target. I did that a million times when I lived in NYC. But out here in the farm world, if anyone did not have money or food, I’d invite the person to our house. Because people know everyone. Or know someone who knows the person.

      The context is everything, and it’s so hard to imagine unless you’re there.


      • Jo
        Jo says:

        The difference between begger on the street and cats is that most humans could find some form of self-sustaining work if they want to… Cat’s (domesticated ones) cannot toddle to the vet for expensive cat food. They are under our guardianship. I live in a very rural, farm dominated area, so do many, and know what that involves, but it doesn’t lift you onto a higher moral plane.

    • Shari
      Shari says:

      Love your writing and the way you share with us how you think. The honesty keeps me reading and seeing your life through your words is intriguing.

    • Maureen Sharib
      Maureen Sharib says:

      “Over time, and generations of assisted pampering, my flock became genetic wimps. The ewes couldn’t lamb on their own and the babies didn’t have the instinct to nurse. I really had to toughen myself up, in order to toughen my flock.”

      This is a pretty good adage for what happened to the American workforce. The “toughening” is happening now. Thank God.

    • Alana
      Alana says:

      Very well written comment, unlike others on here. I have to say I enjoyed both cat posts. More people should be able to take the mundane activities of daily life and learn lessons to apply to other areas, like work and relationships. I could relate to what you were saying about how many times the choices we make at home are so much more difficult than those in the office. Sometimes my work is a respite from the stress of being a good parent. Being a good parent is DIFFICULT! Work, not so much. You do your thing, do it well and get paid.

      Love reading your blog, Penelope! Keep writing! Makes me wish I could spend a day on your farm chatting and cutting up rhubarb!


    • HC
      HC says:

      I’m one of those religious types, and yes, I would agree that at the end of the day, everything is black and white, there is right and wrong, but we can’t be sure what they are as mortals. We have to figure out what we ‘should’ do as best we can. Some of our choices that we think are right will actually turn out to be wrong, of course.

  9. Ali
    Ali says:

    Putting your cat down was the EXACT opposite of complex thinking; there were other alternatives that you seem to have not considered and clearly demonstrates your inability to think outside the box. Do you even know what a moral context is? There are clear moral obligations when taking on a pet that are different than a farm animal. A pet is normally used for companionship and farm animals are for work or to make money; why do you keep mixing the two? And why do keep focusing on just cats? Why don’t you put your dog down when you were having issues with it? This blog is nothing more than the ramblings of some autism lunatic desguised as an intellectual discourse on life meets career advice. I can’t believe you get paid for this crap. I’m tired of tredding through the train wreck of your life for some nibble of insightful analysis about current corporate work culture. I am just done. And no, I am not “a cat person” as you so like to stereotype in a article about diversity.

    • Devon
      Devon says:

      Wow really?? If you think it was an article about diversity then why would you call someone an autistic lunatic? That doesn’t make much sense.

    • Julie Pascal
      Julie Pascal says:

      Having grown up on a farm I have a sincere issue with the notion that a pet has more moral consequence than any other animal on the farm. Perhaps that makes people feel better about what they eat, but it’s moral cowardice. Shouldn’t an animal that is bound for the slaughter have an even *better* life before then? Shouldn’t it receive more care and even affection?

  10. .Bryan
    .Bryan says:

    I must say that was a pretty powerful post. But an important one. What I got out of it are that 1) There are moral certainties but many people don’t recognize this and therefore become morally ambivalent. This is what lead people to follow Hitler. This is why this post is so important. We often don’t have a choice about being exposed to diversity but I agree that it does and should make us think more about the problems we all face. And that we need to be very astute as to the where and when of voicing our moral concerns. This voicing is needed to help educate ourselves and others about the right and wrong of moral issues. So in the end, this post is about making sure we all “think” before we judge. And yes, judge we must. For without judgement there can be no consequences when we’re faced with evil / morally wrong behavior. In terms of cat killing. When it’s done for pleasure it’s morally wrong. When it’s done to end suffering it’s morally justified. For all those inbetween issues, one must THINK about the pros and cons of why it must / must not be done and then follow thru. Regarding people who put cats or any other animal ahead of people well, my sister is like this, and i agree with Penelope. She’s an emotional basket case and has alot of issues. life is about priorities, and putting animals ahead of people does not make for a balanced life. Do I hate cats? No. I have two that I truly enjoy….but they are not a priority.

  11. Cat person
    Cat person says:

    Bummer! I dig your blog, but I am a cat person (and I think I’m navigating my way through complex relationships just fine…)

    People take issue with what other people choose to do. Duh. Get over it! The fact that some people told you they disapprove of your decision to put your cat to sleep is no reason to make generalizations about an entirely different set of people who just happen to have ONE thing in common (that they love cats) with those who expressed their outrage re: your actions. Correlation is not causation. All people who like cats are not jerks. All people who make tough decisions and write about it on their blogs are not morally depraved. You know this. Sensible people know this. Why instigate a pissing contest over it?

    • annoyed myself
      annoyed myself says:

      Amen Cat person

      Yes, the video is a funny parody/hoax of a crazy cat lover done by actress Cara Hartman. Check out another funny parody called Asperger's High Yes, stereotyping can be funny.

      It doesn't bother me that you put your cat down, but your shallow and hypocritical response did. I guess generalizing is kind of your thing with figuring out trends, but I think you've been exposing yourself to too much popular culture and you've thoroughly digested the cat lady hater meme. Your opinion of cat people is so petty and venomous that it's laughable, and it doesn't seem as if you are thinking for yourself.

  12. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I commented on the last post. Not about the cat, but about the weak (I think I used the word “lame”) link the post made to career advice and the workplace. Tough decisions are everywhere. Not just on a farm. Can you at least own up to that?

  13. Frank
    Frank says:

    Right with you until the last paragraph. How can you allow yourself to slip into such poor logic, such sweeping generalizations after making such a reasonable and eloquent case? I was going to use this post for my class. Now I have to add the disclaimer, “Of course, Penelope herself isn’t immune from the tendency to shy from complex thinking.” Love the pic. Best wishes for the goat.

  14. Anhelo
    Anhelo says:

    Great post. With a lot of contradiction. So, learn from the repulsion you feel about cat people. Don’t judge the ones that cannot cope with complexities of human relationships. It’s called diversity. Right?

  15. Nathaniel
    Nathaniel says:

    Great post, Penelope!

    I’d love to hear more about the Whole Foods stuff and how your opinions about such things have changed since moving to the farm.

    When I shop for meat at Whole Foods, I always make it a point of paying a little more for grass-fed, free-range, 4/5 on the rating scale, etc. just for moral reasons. Would you say that it’s not worth the extra money to buy Whole Foods’ higher-rated meat?

    I’m quite curious since it’s not cheap, so I’d love to hear the perspective of someone “on the inside.”

    • EngineerChic
      EngineerChic says:

      Nathaniel – since you are looking for perspective from someone on the “inside” let me offer you mine. I grew up raising 50+ chickens at a time. Definitely more than most hobby farmers who have 6 pet chickens, and a lot less than a single Perdue barn.

      Based on chicken-raising experience, I would say it IS worth some extra expense for grass-fed beef. Animals that are kept in small areas (like a feedlot or typical chicken barn) are really stressed out and live a fairly craptastic life. You see the effect if you tried to raise, say, 100 chickens in a space that comfortably housed 50. More fighting, more injuries, more stress due to crowding.

      Modern meat-birds are full sized & ready for slaughter just 8 weeks after they are hatched. Beef takes longer to mature, so it’s a longer time to suffer. And really, cows aren’t asking for fabulous accommodations – a 3-sided run-in barn, access to water, and space to graze is really not asking a lot. I know they get fat quicker on grain but confining them to a small lot with feeding stations is not a good life for them.

  16. Marni
    Marni says:

    I get the whole thing about exposing yourself to things that are repulsive that you don’t understand. This is why I listen to Rush Limbaugh, sometimes.

  17. Anhelo
    Anhelo says:

    Oh, and.

    “People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships.” I suppose you’re also talking about Melissa, right?

  18. grace
    grace says:

    I don’t know what your definition of cat people is, but I probably qualify. I watch cat videos on the internet, I take tons of pictures of my cat, I’ve even been known to tell cute stories about the cat at work.

    Also? I live on a dairy farm. I don’t even know how many barn cats there are.. probably with the new kittens, maybe 15? My farmer and his dad feed them all (along with the holsteins and all the chickens). Sure, they get the cheap food from the feed store, while our housecat gets the expensive food from the pet store. There’s a difference between pets and animals. And the barn cats will all probably die young or disappear. But what can you do?

    So this quote is just silly: “People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships. People who think their cat gives them what they need for companionship are probably right, because they are so underdeveloped emotionally.” I don’t know anyone like this – and I know a lot of “city” cat people, “country” cat people, and cat haters of all kinds. It’s a silly, straw man assumption you are making. Just because we (cat-loving farmers) enjoy the companionship of cats doesn’t mean we are underdeveloped emotionally. Would my cat-hating mother-in-law be considered a better person? In my experience, pet people are just as epathetic, if not more, than pet haters.

    I mean, I agree with what you’ve said in the post, but why would you want to hold on to such nasty stereotypes of so-called “cat people”?

  19. redrock
    redrock says:

    nobody would have complained about a barn cat, the outcry was over what was clearly identified as a house cat, the hope that the cat gets sicker so that it can be put down without problems. Complex decisions are everywhere around us, work place at home, wherever, probably even a person who chooses cats over human companionship has made a complex, ethically difficult decision along the way. Diversity is also to accept the cat person.

    The reason people read this blog is because it generates controversy. And it is not free from judgement about people. Rather the opposite, it judges all the time, and therefore creates equally judgemental comments.

    And diversity as in accepting another persons opinion and personality is not the same as facing ethical questions and decision making conflict. Actually this is not even diversity at all, it is living and accepting basic human rights.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I was thinking the same thing while I was writing this post. That I am very judgmental, and I’m asking people not to be judgmental.

      I think I lay out good reasons to not judge people. And then, at the end of the post, I show that I am unable to follow my own advice.

      So it stands to reason that I would have judgmental comments when I have a site full of judgmental blog posts. And, I think I actually enjoy the judgmental comments – I like their spark and their edge — even, I guess, from the cat people.


    • dl
      dl says:

      So are you saying the house cat has more value than the barn cat? Does this also apply to people? Does, say, the life of one successful, wealthy entrepreneur have more value than a boatload of poor, indigent immigrants?

      • Kim du Toit
        Kim du Toit says:

        “So are you saying the house cat has more value than the barn cat?” — Not necessarily, although MY house cat may have more value TO ME than a barn cat, but the barn cat may have more value to the farmer than my house cat.

        “Does this also apply to people?” – No.

        “Does, say, the life of one successful, wealthy entrepreneur have more value than a boatload of poor, indigent immigrants?” — Depends on who’s making the judgment. One wealthy, successful entrepreneur may be giving employment to multitudes of poor, indigent immigrants, so in that regard, yes, the entrepreneur is more valuable to society (and indigent immgrants) than yet another boatload of p.i. immigrants.

        So yes: of course one individual’s life may be more valuable than a group of many others. Mother Theresa’s life was “worth” more than the lives of fifty members of the Russian mafia, by almost any criterion other than pure commercialism. One American soldier’s life is worth more than fifty terrorists (unless you’re a supporter of said terrorists).

        What’s your point?

  20. ida
    ida says:

    So many layers to uncover in this post. The cat people referrence triggered a link in my brain to the area of Emotional IQ. Looking for feedback on emotional IQ as a general topic. Please share. What is the best way to test a persons E.IQ in a non-formal manner?

    • JB
      JB says:

      Yawn in front of them a time or too, see if they yawn back. Yawning is surprisingly contagious in people with empathy. Narcissists not so much.

  21. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Again, I think you missed the point of those 150 comments you received. And I also think you need to be careful about your responses to your readers because without us you wouldn’t have this blog. I welcome your differing point of view. I like the controversial things that you write about and discuss on here so I’m not going to unsubscribe (at the moment).

    But, your broad assumption that animal lovers think that they receive all the companionship they need from pets is way off base – we do however value their life. You liken deciding to kill your cat to branding cattle or killing a farm animal for meat. I think those are a world of difference apart. There is a distinct difference to me between farm animals and pets. While I didn’t live on a farm myself, I grew up in farm country in Missouri and spent a great deal of time on them. Farm life is cruel. Hard decisions need to be made. However, if you have house pets, they deserve better. If you don’t feel that connection with non-humans then you shouldn’t have any pets. No dogs, no cats, no fish, no anything. Stick with raising your farm animals and leave the pets to the rest of us who actually value them.

  22. Drew
    Drew says:


    As a person who gets to share my house with two Cats, I read the “Cat execution” story with mixed feelings, but I figured that as you had your reasons and most of the comments posted, pretty much covered the spectrum of emotions and opinions I didn’t see the point of adding to it.
    You subsequent post does shed some valuable light on the awkward Human emotions of Tolerance, Diversity and Repulsion. I too have a “lived a lttle” and what I can cope with often provokes revulsion in others.
    I think grasping this philosophical nettle has perhaps meant that your Cat’s demise was not without purpose after all.
    One thing that horrifies me, is that in the wider world, life is cheap.
    The cheapening of life, animal, vegatable or human is a fact of life for millions of people every day.
    As the saying goes, one death, is a tradgedy, 10,000 deaths is a statistic.
    I can only take responsibility for my own actions, but for me to pass judgement on others actions or inactions, I feel the need to understand their moral compass and direction well enough.
    Religion doesn’t provide moral fibre, but circumstance.
    If you only had the one cat, in your New york loft, you might have done more.
    The same Cat may have suffered without attracting your attention and died in exrutiating agony like many wild animals do, without human intervention.
    As you say, you did what you thought best.
    The difference is, you wrote about it.
    Worse things happen at the hands of worse people that never get written about…
    The bottom line for me, that I find so uncomfortable, is that as Human beings, we feel it is our perogative to put a price on things.
    In another blog, you point out that with a dose of Aspergers and a a reasonably fit body, you can attract the attention of a Guy nearly half your age. But take it from me, as Eddie Murphy once said, if you offer a Starving Man a Cracker….
    What satisfys our Ego, our basic primevil needs and what turns on our Id, our intellect and sensitivity are often different.
    You are indeed a smart woman, I enjoy reading your blogs.
    I might choose not to hijack people’s moral thinking for fear of wasting time on fruitless arguments because as you say, everyone has their own perception of right and wrong.
    I have a problem with anti semites, anti muslims, christian fundamentalists, right wing political rhetoric and racists. But I have to be honest and say that the depth and bredth of my reading and enquiry has brought me to the realisations I feel on such matters.
    Life tells me that everyone needs to feel loved, even ugly people and your cat.
    Weather we have the time, money, patience or courage to deal with people or make a difference in their environment is a matter for everyone to search deep inside for answers.
    Thank you for a thought provoking article.
    Meanwhile, I would ask you to look at a short film in two parts called the butterfly circus.
    Google it and watch both parts.
    When you have watched this thought provoking short film, peg it against your own predjudices and revulsions and feed back if you wish to

    Cheers, Drew Walker

    • adventurose
      adventurose says:

      “Life tells me that everyone needs to feel loved, even ugly people and you cat” Thank you Drew – i was reading everyones replies after feeling upset with Penelope’s decision to kill her cat (and I’m a fan of hers). This nugget of wisdom, so simply profound, made me stop and say WOW.

  23. Carla Hinkle
    Carla Hinkle says:

    The cat post to me was very interesting for its moral ambiguity…the cat was not-quite-a-house-cat, yet clearly more than a barn cat. Plus the very existence of all the barn cats makes moving a cat from one category to the other a slippery moral slope — clearly you can’t move ALL the barn cats to house cat status. But each individual cat may make a good case. And each person has to draw their own moral line where you say, “No more. This cat cannot move up the chain from barn to house.” And I also got the sense that you were ambivalent about making the cat a house cat, in the first place. Which made it all the more morally tricky when it got sick. In fact, is there a farm animal that can move back and forth between animal and pet like a cat can? Dogs are clearly pets. I think most of the other animals clearly aren’t. But cats present their own, unique, ambiguous category. (Maybe.)

    Anyway. You’re not going to convince many people who REALLY love cats. Just like some hard-core utilitarian people would never be convinced to have a cat for a pet. But since it’s YOUR moral decision, YOU are the only one who needs to feel it was the right choice. Which I think you do.

  24. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this post in general (I’ll have to read it again), but right off the bat, I loved this line:

    “So maybe you should just stop reading my blog, but probably you should just not let me take care of your cat.”

  25. Garrett
    Garrett says:

    Good post. Clear, well constructed, and well illustrated. The problem is, it should have come before the last one. Most of your commenters are paralyzed with emotional, irrational thinking right now.

    Of course, it’s predictably irrational thinking.

    Ariely’s book is a good one.

    And to the commenter who said, “there are clear moral obligations when taking on a pet” I’d ask if you’ve considered what an incredibly ethnocentric statement that is? Across the world through most of human history, pets were for raising, enjoying, and then eating. Our modern Western culture that exists with vast surpluses of food which allows for the keeping of animals just for companionship is a rare blip on the timeline.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      If you raise it for eating then it would be livestock (regardless of the species). I think most farmers would agree that you don’t name the animals you will eventually eat. You don’t bring them into your home and cuddle with them either. So there is a difference between livestock and pets. I believe that’s why farmers are careful to not let the kids bond with a pig that will go to slaughter, etc.

      • Julie Pascal
        Julie Pascal says:

        We always named our animals, took them into the house (the lamb in diapers was interesting) when necessary, and discussed who we were eating, when it came time to eat them.

        We loved our animals and cared about them and would never have withheld any affection. How terrible would that be to withhold affection or not enjoy, entirely, the life of that animal simply because it would be short? Isn’t that reason to do it more?

        Granted, I always thought Charlotte’s Web was the stupidest book ever written.

  26. Sasana
    Sasana says:

    So, Penelope – anyone who disagrees with you is that girl in the comedy video? How’s YOUR diversity tolerance these days?

    You didn’t address what to me was the most baffling question, given that your blog is still written as a career advisor:

    How does the point you make with your story make sense? The point being that the workplace is a place where emotions and complex ethical situations just don’t occur? Because “there is” just a goal, and you have to get to the goal with the least effort possible.

    “There is” a goal? Who created that goal? Are they a human? Do they have values? Do values have anything to do with the attainment of goals?

    Because you said that they don’t, and that does not make any sense. It just reads like a flimsy career bloggy justification for posting a deliberately controversial bit of link-bait.

    I miss the good old days of interesting career advise based on actual research, and this “My peeing cat means workplaces are amoral” nonsense is getting old. It sounds like you don’t actually want to be writing career advise any more, you want to have your own reality TV show about you and Melissa, which would be a lot like the “Paris Hilton on a farm” show.

    That’s fine. But stop the pretend advise. It isn’t any good, because your heart isn’t in it.

  27. Walt Darson
    Walt Darson says:

    “People who treat animals like humans are people who cannot cope with complexities of human relationships.”

    the first step in allowing your assumptions to be challenged is to allow them to be seen and accepted as mere assumptions. if you’re really interested in facing and accepting diversity, you’ll be brave and preface statements like this with “i think,” or words to that effect, that show your opinions to be what they are: opinions.

    *i* think this particular opinion of yours may simply be a means of justifying a narrow, convenient view, born of circumstance, that humans are the most important species because you’re one, and the lives of other species don’t matter as much because they don’t speak English, and so – provided you make no effort to understand them despite that language barrier – you don’t have to be troubled by their thoughts and feelings and can see them as objects and exploit them as a source of income with a clear conscience. it’s species-based imperialism. and it’s just one way of viewing things, no less (and no more) valid than any other point of view. and to state is as a fact is a defensive play; it says “this point cannot be argued.” it takes guts to admit that your opinion is only an opinion.

  28. Becky
    Becky says:

    Overall, I love this post. It drives me nuts when people use the word “diversity” to mean “people of all skin shades, who think exactly like I do.”

    I would agree that people who treat animals like humans have trouble coping with the complexity of human relationships. But that doesn’t make them underdeveloped *emotionally.*

    It means they have underdeveloped social skills. Which is sometimes (as you well know) linked to genetic characteristics a person can’t always outgrow.

    You’re very cute, which allows you extra chances to connect with people. This in turn gives you more chances to develop your social skills. Yet social stuff is still hard for you. Please be kind to the people who have your disadvantages and fewer chances to overcome them.

  29. Walt Darson
    Walt Darson says:

    i should amend that last post of mine to include the fact that i love your blog and am fascinated by your opinions and views and the ways your mind works; you present me with lots of opportunities to accept diversity. thank you, yet again. :)

  30. Twister
    Twister says:


    If you read this post backwards, a biter cat hating woman discovers diversity is a good thing and decides not to be spiteful towards cat loving people anymore.

  31. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    “But in fact, I still have the problem that I now find myself doing the very worst, low level, terrible job on the internet: writing content about cats.”

    LOVE THIS. :) And I am a die-hard cat lady.

  32. Devon Shane
    Devon Shane says:

    I disagree that “you are not really experiencing diversity unless you are experiencing revulsion.” I find that I am less repulsed by things that are truly different and more fascinated. I think that the response of being repulsed by what is different is just another manifestation of the archetypal fear that comes along with embracing what is truly and deeply different. In my mind, an evolved individual can move beyond the sticky ego and look at what is different with appreciation and respect, not revulsion and fear.

  33. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    Well, this just illustrates my belief that people need to get out and see the real world. Putting a cat down is far more humane than trying to keep it alive (suffering) through artificial means. Both for humans and animals. Trying to keep the goat alive is stupid. How can it forage and fend for itself, run from predators with a poorly healed broken leg? How much will it suffer with your friend trying to asuage her own issues at the expense of the goat? I think the farmer is really patient with all of you. Even though you are getting an education on the farm, you are pretty clueless and so are most of your readers. No one born and raised in the city is going to understand the real world unless they get out there in it. Their sense of reality may be that meat comes from a package at Whole FOods with criteria for raising meat animals, but what about the animals that are in Safeway? What about those raised in other countries? Do you really think keeping that poor goat alive and in pain is the answer? Do your X, Y and Millenium readers really think it is OK for your kids to watch a cat go through painful urination and incontinance? Do they get it that cats die every day because people are too ignorent to spay and neuter them? Do they know that starving people eat cats and dogs (and rats) everyday? What do you accomplish by keeping sick and injured animals alive to suffer? This is why these kids can’t get a job (remember this is what your blog used to be about?), they have no experience, have limited thinking, have only been exposed to what is on TV, the internet and the movies. They need to get out of the USA and see the world. Go live in a rural environment and do some real work. When they get back home their perspective may be different and they may become useful and productive and be able to get a job.

  34. lynnevon
    lynnevon says:

    I wish the Whole Foods ‘5 tier system’ of humanity could be enforced to the benefit of HUMAN work environments – my workplace wouldn’t make the bottom rung. We are crowded together in windowless cages without mobility, for sure. True, we can leave at the end of our shift, but the feeling of confinement is not so easy to shed.
    I’m an animal lover but I don’t stand in judgment of your decision in the least. Everything is a matter of perspective, unique to the particular situation. I hate when people say ‘it’s cruel to keep an animal in the city’. Well the city shelters are full of animals whose only chance for survival is the hope of being adopted by a human caretaker, no matter how small the apartment they share. So is it ‘humane’ to let them be killed, or worse? Or are these people going to personally truck all the unwanted city animals out to greener pastures – like a resort in the Catskills? Save me a place on that bus, please!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The idea of a five-tier rating system for work environments is great. I think we have one — I mean there are laws on the books that assume Industrial Revolution-era conditions. I’d love to see a five-tier Whole Foods-type rating system for the knowledge worker environment.

      Things I think would be included:
      Tier one- ability for workers to control the air conditioning and heat.

      Tier five- the joy of having a boss who has spent time in therapy learning about himself.


  35. Roberta Warshaw
    Roberta Warshaw says:

    I love the goat photo. I tried once to nurse a baby sheep back to health. It too was going to be killed. It died anyway because the mother had rejected it and that is not always good for a farm animal.

    I love the way you compare life on the farm with corporate. It makes so much sense to me. Survival of the fittest and all that…..

  36. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    Oh yea, about Aljazeera, I watched it nightly for my evening news for about6 years. When I got back to the US, I couldn’t believe how many people were spitting out the word ‘Aljazeera” like it was a curse. I’d ask them if they ever watched it and almost no one had. I found it to be the most informative, unbiased and well reported news I had ever seen. But people think all middle easterns are terrorists and all asians are chinese. By the way, that reminds me, your cat may have urinary tract/kidney problems from the catfood you feed it. Does Melamine ring a bell?

  37. Niki
    Niki says:

    “Repulsion is part of diversity”.

    Honestly, this is why I read & subscribed to you, dear Penelope. and this is coming from a 29 yrs old guy from far away country: Indonesia.
    I simply love how you often made topics that *challenge* the old-notions and traditional, even popular lines of thinking. You are never afraid to show your own real skin, and this is what I truly most respect and salute from you.

    Which reminds me of a quote that I love from, surprisingly, a Japanese manga/anime that I still love following: Naruto (despite of what “normal” people kept saying it’s ‘childish’ for me to still watch a “cartoon”. People and society at large can be so damn close-minded, which is WHY I understand humanity have so many troubles & problems!), and here’s the quote that I thought I’d share also with you & everybody else here:

    “People live their lives bound by what they accept as correct and true. That’s how they define reality. But what does it mean to be ‘correct’ or ‘true’? Merely vague concepts…Their ‘reality’ may all be a mirage. Can we consider them to simply be living in their own world shaped by their beliefs?” – Uchiha Itachi (Naruto Manga Chapter #385).

    Keep shedding those old notions and make people aware.
    I believe in you.

  38. Marti
    Marti says:

    There is no such thing as Objective Ethics. Ethics are always situational. We can justify, rationalize, pretty much anything we do. Very few people can take a hard and fast moral position on killing, as in: NEVER kill ANYTHING for ANY REASON. All those kinds of moral imperatives come packaged with a continuum of Exceptions (except when they are trying to kill you, except when an animal is sick, except when an animal is inconvenient, except when it is an ikky cockroach, except for officially sanctioned execution).

    Have a sick cat put to sleep — feed the wild barn cats. Does one make up for the other? Does it matter? Everyone thinks their own ethics should be the ethics of everyone else.

    There are pet people and non pet people and people kind of in the middle. My guess is if they refer to their pets as ‘furbabies’, they are Pet People. If they refer to their family’s pet as ‘that damn dog’, they are Non Pet People. Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle, cleaning up dog poo, cat hair and bird feathers and kind of wishing they weren’t.

    Real diversity in the workplace is not possible. We all hire people like us, we want to work with people like us, we are more comfortable with people like us, and anybody who is not like us get labeled ‘the token ____________(fill in the blank).

  39. BethK
    BethK says:


    I love your blog. I don’t always like what you write about or your opinions, but you make me think. So…thanks for that. Since we are in the same vicinity, I hope that we run into each other some time. Well it will mostly be me running into you, I suppose, since I am not a well-known blogger.

    You made the decision that was right for you. No one else is looking out for your best interests, no matter how similar a situation they fancy themselves in.

  40. Brian S Hall
    Brian S Hall says:

    I like to think I write some brilliant, it’s about to get real, yo, posts on my site. And I do. But, maybe I’ve not written anything this awesome. Thanks.

  41. lestamore
    lestamore says:

    Ethical arguments are one of those things about the internet that I both love and hate. You can’t have the same kind of fully committed ‘I hate what you stand for’ type arguments in real life civilized company (usually), but at the same time, it feels like this kind of conflict gets to the bottom of who we think we are and why we think it matters. It is exciting! And it always makes me feel smart because I feel that my opinion is as relevant or more than everyone else’s. That said, I think you are right on this one. In nature, life is cheap, and however we try to get away from being a part of nature, everything about us, especially our need for food, brings us back to it. We can create our models that involve abstract concepts of how we should and shouldn’t behave, but in the end, they are only that, models in our minds that we can change and work with in order for them to be useful to us and our needs. It turns out your needs are not the needs of a cat person. I can go either way with my cats, but I do realize that my interactions with my cats are dictated by what I get out of them and not the other way around.

  42. LIsa Chandler
    LIsa Chandler says:

    You are brilliant, Penelope! I make no comment on the morality of killing your cat or not. I am simply in awe of the way you are handling the cat backlash with your latest post. You demonstrate in this post, how deftly you can handle looking at a situation from many different perspectives. Fast Company talks about this in last month’s issue on the 100 most creative people. If your Brazen Careerist people or other investors think these posts are about a cat, they are really missing the point.

  43. callen
    callen says:

    1. You asked your readers what they thought of your decision after you made it clear that the cat was one of 2 indoor cats (pets), therefore a different entity than the wild cats, who yes are impossible to catch, feed,treat etc. Then you are shocked that people’s opinions are different from yours. I think perhaps your choice of words “KILLING MY CAT” were intended for shock value, intended to get our backs up and create a stir, thus more hits and more comments on your site.

    2. To think your readers have NOT had their share of personal challenges, unfamiliar or complex situations requiring an open mind and complex thinking is a joke.

    3. Cat lady on E-harmony is an actress….did you know she’s also a Siamese twin in another video.

    4. Bye Bye Penelope…..I don’t find you interesting anymore

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