Failure and the importance of dignity.

Anyone who has spent any time at all with a cat will know that, in general, they are creatures that are incredibly conscious of their dignity. They need to be seen to be in control of their actions, and, preferably, their humans. Even better, their whole environment.

That is why, when a cat falls, it is very important that it is allowed to pretend that of course that was exactly what it meant to do. It wasn’t falling – that was how it chose to get down. And when a cat fails at something, it’s not failure at all – it’s simply that the cat decided half-way through the task that it had something better to do, and so it was necessary to let the piece of string escape, or the summit of the high shelf to remain out of reach.

Sometimes, though, not even a cat can pretend that its screw-up is deliberate, and it is then very important that the human does not laugh or mock it. Which is why when my friend Maggie, who is a cat, attempted to jump up into my linen cupboard and not only failed to make the jump but pulled my entire stock of towels and table-cloths down on top of her, the onus was on me to pretend that it wasn’t a hilarious mistake. I was not supposed to laugh. I certainly was not supposed to pick her up, cuddle her like a baby, and say “aww, did the widdle cat fall down?” in my most mocking voice.

So of course, that’s exactly what I did.

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