Posted in Lost in Thought, My Cats


What questions do you ask your pets?

This is the one I asked Delilah today… “is emotion a weakness?” She blinked lovingly and did not reply. I only asked because I’m reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I keep feeling confused by his talk of highly emotional intelligent people doing better than their opposites, regardless of IQ. When I thought about it, I identified a deeply rooted part of me objecting, “if they’re emotional, they’re not going to do too well, are they? How can they be doing well?”
I have to bat it away with, “he’s not saying that they have tantrums all over the place; he’s saying that they don’t, even when they want to.”

Perhaps it’s the word ’emotional’ I’m having trouble with, rather than the concept.

To link back to where I started…

Delilah is the more warm-natured of my two cats. If you remember, I chose Samson first, an older playmate of hers at their old house. Delilah came a few days later in an effort to coax him out from behind the desk… it worked very well.

It took Samson a long time to get used to us even then. He would come up for some attention, (purr purr), and loved being petted, but when you reached out your hand to him, his eyes widened in horror and he ducked back. It was as though he was fluctuating between two views of his situation: he liked comfort and attention, but on the other hand, just look at who was giving it… these huge bipedal monsters who could rend him limb from limb!

He is very affectionate and loving, and comes more and more often for attention, and flinches less and less… but I said to Mum how even his tail feels like a coiled spring. Delilah sags softly in your arms, and Samson is all muscle, tension and barely damped-down suspicion. We stepped in through the front door after I said that, and Delilah was just inside, draped lazily in a cat hammock. I said to Delilah “hello Squidgy.” Samson came galloping up, his tail vibrating vertically, and Mum said “Squishy and Springy.”

The cats have got a handle on me and how I might react to any given situation. When they are happily torturing flies, for instance, I will allow those poor bewildered insects to escape out the window. They can guess how I might react when they come in with a flapping bird.

That is what Samson did yesterday… he scooped up one of those overly-trusting baby blackbirds and brought it in to show Delilah. The cats saw me looking, and realized their fun was about to end. Samson darted away, growling, but I cornered him and got my hands round his jaws, which were clamped like a steel trap on the bird.

I’m aware that emotion, pain etc would cause the most loving pet to turn on you, and Samson is the more highly strung of the two cats. There’s a greater chance he would get angry or scared and go a little out of his mind with it. I usually get a bird away by manipulating the cat’s jaw and he’ll drop it, but Samson held on grimly. So I put my hand in his mouth.

I never put my fingers in a cat’s mouth, no matter how much I love or trust that cat. But there was a part of me that said I would be a coward if I left the bird to be crushed. What’s a hand compared to a whole body? I knew I would probably get bitten but decided I would just have to accept it.

I could feel his teeth pressing hard on my fingers, and he was angry, lashing his tail… then he let go and fell away, leaving me with the bird.

It died – though not right away. It looked up at me with slowly dulling eyes, and chirped more and more weakly. There was blood on my fingers and I thought I would find cuts… there was a small nick on my ring finger, but apart from that I was unscathed.

I’m still surprised at myself – I generally have a healthy respect for the weaponry of even the kindest of cats.

The next time Samson approached me, glancing sideways at my face with caution and slight resentment, I felt a wash of love for him. I was impressed that he didn’t bite me when he could have and was angry enough to. It seems to have bonded us a bit more, and today he came and slept on my lap, which has not been a habit of his. Maybe he has more emotional intelligence than I credited him with, though I’m not too sure about mine…



I live in the UK with two cats -- Samson and Delilah.

6 thoughts on “Impulse

  1. By Emotional Intelligence they mean charisma. They mean the ability to be empathetic, to understand what people mean when they don’t say what they mean, by interpreting body language, minute muscle movements in the face. It means being able to persuade, or manipulate…

    I work at a university where there are a lot of really smart people. Some professors are good with people, some are not. The good ones are inspiring and supportive, the bad ones terrorize their students and undermine their careers by making them feel incapable even when they are perfectly decent students. The motivating professors have high EQs, the bastards don’t.

    When you meet someone with high EQ you feel drawn to him or her, and you will feel happy every time you see that person, even from afar. You will leave that person feeling better, more energized and confident, and inspired to do things.

    It has nothing to do with IQ, as I said above. The grocer on the corner, who has a fifth grade education, has high EQ. His shop is a meeting place for the neighborhood, he makes everyone feel welcome, and is always good for a chat.He is good at his job, the nuts and bolts of running a grocery store, but he has that extra something that makes it fun to go there and hang out for a few minutes.

  2. Thanks Katie, that’s it in a nutshell. :-). I like your use of the word ‘charisma’ to describe it. I still have trouble with the use of the word ’emotional’, but that’s probably because I associate it with the meaning ‘tearful’ or ‘prone to ups and downs’.

    “The motivating professors have high EQs, the bastards don’t.”

    It reminds me of a friend I had at university. She was a medical student, a very friendly and bubbly girl, and she said one day there was somebody in her class who was excellent at the coursework and was probably going to be a top surgeon or something, but his ‘people skills’ were extremely poor. Sometimes I wonder what happened to him; did he get a good job but annoy everybody, both staff and patients, or did he not get the kind of job he was aiming for?

    In a way I felt for him; I wouldn’t say my people skills are spectacular either. I would love to shut myself away with my work and have nothing to do with anybody.

    To an extent we can learn and improve, or at least tread warily, but brains are made the way they are. That doesn’t stop us liking person X but not person Y… one of those things I wrestle with.

    Perhaps I’ve been having a similar trouble with the editors I was complaining about in my last post… they are very clever and very good at what they do, but not easy to get along with. High IQ, low EQ – most likely.

  3. Emotional Intelligence is very important. I work witha lot of researchers who are so brilliant it’s scary, but if you put them with another person they gibber like fools and usually are rude without noticing, and treat their grad students abysmally. A lot of the pathologists joke they became pathologists because they didn’t need to have a bedside manner, as their patients were usually already dead, or they only looked at samples or slides – I find it amusing that some people can recognise their shortcomings and work around them. Others are bullies or just get more nd more eccentric.

    I personally fight the eccentric tendencies myself 🙂

  4. That’s an interesting thought, that maybe most bullies have always been low on EQ.

    The book says that it’s not impossible to learn… I suppose it’s only partly brain make-up that will stand in the way of empathy or communication. Hence the ones who see what they’re doing wrong, and work round it.

  5. there’s an interesting dialogue series on social/emotional intelligence that’s run by Daniel Goleman. He speaks to some leading experts about the applications of EQ and there is, i think, a particularly relevant one to your thoughts, with Paul Ekman, who is an expert on reading facial expressions. you can listen to samples of it at the publishers website,

  6. Thanks for the link David. 🙂 I’ve just got to a part of the book where people’s expressions and slight reactions can identify the likelihood of (for example) a marriage breaking up somewhere down the line. It’s quite uncomfortable reading in places.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s