I've been a rat all of my life. I didn't know it at first, just as I didn't know I was a male, white American child. I learned these things, and along the way I learned I was a rat.
The rat connection began with Mom. Many people were "rat bastards" in her frame of references. It seemed like a favorite expression, strange, I guess, for an Iowa small town farm girl rising from the 1930s. She used it as a pejorative, spitting it with concentrated contempt when angry, "Those rat bastards," as well as a familiar humorous dig at friends, "How you doing, you old rat bastard!" It didn't matter whether they were male or female. They - we - were all rat bastards.
The rat connection became cemented during my first military assignment. People who lived in dorms and never went anywhere off base were called barracks rats, issued with affectionate contempt. As the US Air Force softened its image, barracks were changed to dorms. The rats were still rats but now they were dorm rats.
Cartoons furthered my understanding of humans as rats. We were all part of the rat race, hurrying around, hunting food, jobs and sex, trying to figure out the maze and even trying to escape it. I saw the connection and it amused me. In my world view, everyone came to be a rat. They weren't rat bastards as Mom declared although I will sometimes growl out a reference to someone as a rat bastard. No, in my world, we're all rats pursuing mazes of existence.
It didn't start that way. At first, amused by hearing about dorm rats, I started referring to others as housing rats. Dorm rats and housing rats were the same, people who didn't go off base, eschewing the chance to see what was going on outside the base gates unless it was absolutely necessary. Not understanding why someone wouldn't want to experience the world, I had a bit of contempt for them. They don't deserve it but that's the judgemental rat bastard that I am.
Later, I developed contempt for officer rats who couldn't get out of a paper back if you opened it for them and contempt for enlisted rats for the same reason, developing a greater contempt for both varieties that turned out to be lazy. I worked the console in my early military years so the back office staff were office rats while we on the console were console rats. Everyone was a rat of some sort.
I joined the civilian rat race after retiring from the military. Once a civilian, I tended to refer to people less as rats, at least aloud. After all, there didn't seem to be base rats who preferred to stay in the rat nests rather than going off base. Civilians lived and worked off base. It was their natural environment.
It took a while but I eventually perceived another species of dorm rats out in the civilian world. There were office rats who traveled between home and work but didn't know anything about the neighborhood where they worked. Rats resided in the building. HR and Finance people rarely left their offices and I came to see them as rats, just as I saw the engineers who refused to go elsewhere as rats. By then I'd come to understand more fully how we're rats, trapped in mazes and labyrinths of ignorance, prejudice, fears, desires and failures that we often create. Sometimes the ignitor is an outside issue that caused pain or inconvenience but once it was lodged into them, people become rats, sticking to routines, comfortable in their mazes and wary of the others outside of their mazes. There are ways out but they -- we -- can't find them or we're afraid to take them. Many of us, in our rat mazes, are looking for satisfaction, validation, friendship or companionship. We can't find it because we're trapped in our maze.
Now I'm a working, writing, blogging progressive coffee house rat, burrowing through words in a quest to express myself. Can I ever escape the maze and not be a rat?
I think so.
Like so many traps, it's first a matter of awareness and then acknowledgement. I've long known I was a rat in a maze. I've changed mazes and I've expanded the size of my maze. But possessions, emotions and relationships keep the maze intact. I had to quit thinking like a middle class, middle-aged white American male. I needed to think of myself as human, along with everyone else, and help us all escape the maze. To do that, we need to be less comfortable. In the end, that's what defines being a rat: you're afraid to be uncomfortable and take action to ensure your maze is safe and comfortable. You like being in your maze with the rats who are like you.
Well, time for me to get uncomfortable.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com