He scooted into the kitchen as soon as the door opened. This was quite a surprise; up until now, every other time he had come for a visit, he'd wait to step inside until I backed away from the door. This was the first time Mr. Scoots, a beautifully-orange stray cat, allowed me to come between him and the door.
The seasons were changing, and the cool Autumn air would soon turn into a frigid New England winter. I had hoped by this point Mr. Scoots would trust me enough to stay inside at night to keep warm, but his tendency to scoot away as soon as anyone came too close made this an unlikely hope.
Up until now, that is.
I was still standing right next to the door and Mr. Scoots was already far into the kitchen. I couldn’t have planned a better moment to test our trust. Nonchalantly, I closed the door and turned to the cupboard to get Mr. Scoots some food—but I had to abandon the test mission immediately. Mr. Scoots was freaking out!
He ran to the door, willing it to open, but instead somehow managed to climb up it while bellowing deep, fearful meows. He wanted out! I tried to console him with a soothing voice, but he was triggered and no amount of soothing could calm him down.
I moved back to the door to open it, but that was too close for Scoots, so he scooted away. With the door finally opened, Scoots ran to the door—but because I was still near the door, he scooted away again. Thinking fast, I went into the pantry to hide, and with me out of sight, Mr. Scoots finally scooted out the door.
My heart hurt. I was concerned that all the work we had done for nearly a year to build trust had been erased by this traumatizing incident. “Will he ever be able to trust me?” I wondered.
It’s often suggested to treat others as you wish to be treated, and while this is a sound suggestion, when taken literally without accounting for the spirit of its deeper meaning, we can potentially miss the meaning entirely.
Instead of treating others as you wish to be treated, perhaps it can best be reframed as treating others as they wish to be treated. In this way, we become empowered to develop mutual trust by demonstrating consistent respect for meaningful boundaries. As for me and Mr. Scoots, this means having an open door policy when he comes inside.
Despite my concerns, I’m happy to say that our relationship continues to deepen. Not long after the incident, Mr. Scoots was spending time inside my apartment and I went about my business tending to my work. After some time, I presumed he had already left, but when I went to close the door I instead found him sleeping on the couch!
My heart became light, because I knew that Mr. Scoots had developed a level of trust with me that was truly and sincerely earned—through respectful boundaries and freedom to be without condition.
I know Mr. Scoots is just a cat, but I wonder what it would be like if more of our relationships were empowered in a similar way, with an open door of respect and freedom to be just as we are without condition.
What do you do to foster trust in your relationships?
I'm a mirror (and so are you).