Square Peg #7: Embracing the Cat

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 6 Comments A+ a-


Hey, guys! I’m hanging out in the park today. Brought my blankets and some lunch and made a cozy little nest beneath a tree. I couldn’t stand the normal routine of coffee shops and libraries another second. Noise, music, frigid temps, crowded tables, people buried behind laptops—it’s the same everywhere I go, and the consistency drives me a little crazy sometimes.

So I came out here to break things up. Not that it’s perfect—this park is right in the middle of town. Traffic is heavy, and not ten minutes go by without a police siren shattering the silence. Someone’s running an annoying piece of street machinery a few blocks over. And then there’s the occasional spider crawling up my leg.

But the scenery is relaxing. There’s good energy here…the kind man can’t replicate with concrete and steel. It’s a great place to have some lunch and organize my thoughts about today’s Square Peg topic: nonconformity. And as I was munching on a yummy turkey-on-wheat from Subway, I decided to read Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Cat That Walked By Himself” again for some perspective.

Have you ever read this? It’s an amusing little tale about taming the world of the Wild, and I find it both charming and relevant. Man roams wild and free until tamed by the Woman, who then uses magic and manipulation to bring the wild animals into subservience. Except the Cat—who is too clever. He outwits her and eventually submits on his own terms, although he suffers consequences for not blindly conforming like the others. But by being cleverly defiant, the Cat manages to hold onto his freedom, able to “wave his wild tail and walk his wild lone” whenever the moon and night call to him.

There are many theories as to what Kipling meant by this tale, but I think it’s simply a good story and open to interpretation. Personally, whenever I read it, I find myself despising the Woman for her bewitching appeal, wanting to smack the Man for allowing himself to be domesticated so easily, and applauding the Cat for his stealthy approach.

But wait, you say. How does a literary review relate to INFJs and nonconformity?

I’m glad you asked.

In our last post, we talked about the INFJ's need for authenticity. We value it in our physical possessions/surroundings and strive to achieve it internally. We’re constantly seeking truth, shaping and defining it so that it fits into our core bedrock of values, which becomes the foundation we live by. And we have a strong desire to uphold and be true to that foundation.

In this way, INFJs are very much like the Cat in Kipling’s story. He’s comfortable with who he is. He’s aware of his wildness—an innate part of his being—and knows his freedom is deeply rooted in it. He has no desire to compromise that part of himself. So he waves his wild tail and walks his wild lone. That’s us, guys.

Enter society—the Cave that presents itself as a warm shelter and source of material comfort. It offers happiness and a higher standard of living, and all for the low, low price of your personal freedom. Serve the right way and be rewarded. Serve the wrong way…and get chased up a tree.

I knew that Cave was evil!

Yeah, I’m being a little snarky here. But this is how I see INFJs trying to navigate through life. We have an unusual operating system, and if you’ve read my last six posts, you know why. We’re built differently. Like the Cat, we quietly wait and watch as other people step forward and say/do all the right things to be accepted into the Cave. We can see the benefits of acceptance (relationship, food, comfort), and we want those, too. Problem is, we’re really uncomfortable giving up our true nature to get them.

If you’ve looked around lately, you may have noticed that society places high value on extraverted traits. That's why we often see things like boldness and natural leadership being rewarded--these are considered skills for success. If you’re an introvert, you either conform to extraversion or get left behind. I remember when a business I worked for switched to a feedback-based performance system, where my “merit” was put into the hands of coworkers and what they thought of me. You can imagine my terror. I constantly felt like I had to put on a fa├žade in order to keep up with everyone else’s outgoing wit and charm. It made me miserable, but I had to do it in order to move ahead.

I’ve experienced the same dilemma in other areas of life as well. Churches, for example, often expect you to behave in specific ways. I consider myself a spiritual person, but not a religious one, and my INFJ tendency to ask provocative questions (truth-seeking) and bend the rules (nonconformity) doesn’t exactly endear me to the religious community. I once had someone pray for God to “grant me humility” after I voiced my honest opinion on a particular issue. I was like…really? Not thinking exactly as you do means I lack humility? Needless to say, I didn't linger very long with that group.

But that’s exactly my point. To be part of a group, I’m often presented with two choices: be accepted (and rewarded) by conforming to group standards, or be myself and risk condemnation, guilt, or outright rejection. I try to be reasonable about it, because—to quote TARS from Interstellar—“absolute honesty isn't always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.” Yes, I realize that conformity is required for many social norms. But making the decision to hide parts of myself for the betterment of the group can wear on me. Hard.

And naturally, I put Willow (the main character in Gambit) into this situation. She’s forced to leave her old life behind and live a new one with an entirely different set of expectations and cultural norms. She faces the same choice as any INFJ: give up who she is to be accepted, or be herself and suffer the consequences. She makes a lot of the same mistakes I have in life, which I hope lends some authenticity (you knew that was coming) to the story.

So, to wrap up this monster-length post …INFJs are nonconformists. Not because we’re pigheaded or rebellious, but because to be anything other than who we are feels like the worst form of treachery. We want to wave our wild tails, like the Cat, and thanks to society, we often have to do so by our wild lones.


To me, this is one very strong reason we feel so different. The balance between Cat and Cave is delicate and not always easy to maintain. Keeping a handle on it chips away at my sanity. I'm always glad when the moon begins to rise and the night softly calls, giving me leave to slip away...to fully embrace the Cat and become the wild, free creature I was meant to be. :)

Five stars to this one, guys. Thoughts??

Image Credit: Kipling Cat, Tree Cat, Forest Cat

6 comments

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Christy Haupt
AUTHOR
June 18, 2015 at 8:55 AM delete

Boy that touched my core. Made me cry because of the release I felt. Kipling has long been a favorite of mine and perhaps was an INFJ himself? He has a depth to his writing that is uncommon. Yes, five stars to you and blessed thanks.

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Meridian
AUTHOR
June 18, 2015 at 10:22 AM delete

He's one of my favorites, too. And I'm glad you were moved by the message. It was difficult to put into words...took a long time to write and even longer to edit. Crossed my fingers that it would make sense. Thanks and blessings to you as well. <3

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Christy Haupt
AUTHOR
June 18, 2015 at 2:54 PM delete

Your time in writing and editing are appreciated and, to me, you are acting like a shepherd. You clearly have an anointing from our merciful G_d for this work. I am only days old in discovering my INFJness and it is quite like my mouth is dropped open mentally or deer in the headlights syndrome. In August, I learned that I was raised by, and am caregiver to, a narcissistic parent and I am still jelling with that. Why all this information now? 57yrs of ignorance was a kind of bliss, really. Now, I have all this sorting to do? What purpose has He in this? To free me?

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T. Tomlinson
AUTHOR
June 26, 2015 at 1:39 AM delete

Growing up I felt like the entire world was a dance I didn't know the steps to. I understood it was a dance, and sometimes I could keep the rhythm if I felt like wearing myself out, but mostly I sat watching all the people, trying to figure out why they were dancing at all.

I've never understood "busy work" or "polite conversation" that's not to say I don't know how, it's just I don't understand why it's a thing.

Why does it matter if that one person you sort of know slept with someone you've never met?

Why would you follow rules for the sake of following rules?

Why do we only want to know the shiny personas people put on by engaging in small talk...there's all these people, unique and glorious, with pasts and knowledge as colorful as a sunrise, but we're only allowed to discuss the weather...

Why do we have "phone voices"

Why can't we take a nap if we're sleepy, take a walk if we're stressed...9-5 jobs....gross. Surely we'd be more productive if we acted like humans instead of these weirdly polite people.

I come off as aloof or stuck-up...far from how I actually feel. If you loved a sport and we're passionate about it, then I'd sit and listen to you talk for hours, not knowing a thing about, it just to watch the sparkle in your eyes...but just to listen to a group spend 10 minutes asking eachother if the group saw the game, when half of the people just checked the scores so they could all nod when asked tomorrow...ahhh! I don't understand!

I keep thinking it's because people need to belong, and small talk is safe, and they find acceptances, they're really saying, "I'm a human like you, we notice the same things" the problem is I never find people who notice the same things, or if I do, they're making small talk, trying to fit in because they want to avoid the drama like me.

Sorry for the essay. Loved your articles as usual, definitely five stars. Love your way of describing the world...the cat really is a brilliant mascot for the INFJ.

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AundreaMJ
AUTHOR
January 31, 2017 at 5:28 PM delete

You know what is interesting is that I have a mother who was big on conforming, so in a way I was forced to conform from an early age or face the consequences. My inner world is in turmoil when a new idea occurs and I have to bounce it off of my intuition and that voice in my head that says that I must conform. Interesting that the older I get the less I have the desire to conform.

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Meridian
AUTHOR
January 31, 2017 at 6:14 PM delete

Totally relate. I had a similar conform-or-face-the-consequences childhood, and it's taken years to shake that off. Learning about the id/ego/superego has helped a lot. I realize now that my ego is fear-based, while my intuition is usually working toward my best interests. It's a challenge to change your perspective and rely on intuition after so many years of conforming. But I think it's worth it. :)

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