Avoid Rash Judgment

The Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine and illustrated by Steve Cox

Synopsis with spoilers: My 7-year-old and I read this book together. This book is about a cat named Tuffy who continues to kill birds, regardless of how upset this makes the human family. One morning, they wake up, and their neighbor’s pet rabbit is found dirty and dead in their house. While the family is angry with the cat, they decide to cover up this ‘murder.’ They clean up the rabbit and sneak over in the middle of the night to replace it to its hutch. The next day, their goal is to avoid the neighbors, which of course they can’t. Then the neighbors tell them an ‘extraordinary’ story – their rabbit died from old age – they buried it in the backyard – then it miraculously returned to its hutch “all fluffed up nicely.”

Discussion with child: The first discussion was about taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions and those in our care. Meaning, if one owns a pet, they are responsible for their pet’s actions. The family should have gone over to the neighbors, told them what happened, and tried to compensate them fairly. We did discuss this, but the book intended to be funny. I did have a few laughs about the family cleaning up a dead rabbit and sneaking over to the neighbors to return it.  

Where I focused, the most, with my child was the family’s assumption that the cat killed the rabbit. Mainly because we are all inclined to make assumptions about others. It is easy to assume the worst. I feel we are often encouraged by society and the media to assume the worst intent. With our current technology, the news is instantaneous. The need to be the first to release a story means there is not enough time to research or investigate all sides of the story before the report is released. Drama sells; therefore, rash judgments are popular, and news stories have a clear villain.  

My favorite paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn’t pertain to dogma, doctrine, theology, or tradition. Instead, it is excellent advice:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way

CCC2478

We should assume the best intentions of our neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds. The cat’s owners in this book discovered their rash judgment about the cat was wrong. The cat was innocent, even though the initial evidence looked terrible for the cat.

What if one can’t find any good in someone’s words or deeds? The Catechism continues, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola Spiritual Exercises and states, “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it.”

If we can’t find any good in someone’s words or deeds, we still don’t assume ill intent. We ask them their intent!

Following this advice has quelled anger in me many times. In the last few months, I started to have anger over how my bishop and priest created policies around COVID in my church. I was frustrated and began to see them in a negative light. I had to ask myself, “What is their purpose in doing all these things you dislike?” The answer is obvious. The bishop is trying to stop the spread of a virus that could potentially kill an elderly parishioner. The priest could be doing the same thing, and he is being obedient to the bishop (which he is called to do). Once I started to view their actions in this light, it was easier for me to follow them.

We started to do this as a family. When someone starts to tell a story assuming ill intent on another, we stop and ask, “Is there any way to interpret their actions with them having a positive intent?” When we stop and think about this question, it is incredible how easy it can be to see others’ good intentions.

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