Belonging & freedom in a highly migratory world- 'The cat that walked by himself' analogy

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

We need to change the conversation about 'belonging & freedom' and how it is affecting multi-cultured members of the world.

In this post, I have used the subtle messages of Rudyard Kipling's infamous children's book, The Cat that walked by Himself to illustrate how freedom and belonging are not paradoxical, but inherent to living an exceptional life as a highly mobile citizen.

Finding belonging when your freedom is sacred

The books we resonate with as a child, have quite a lot of say in who we become as adults.

I have never felt this to be more true than when my Danish husband, on our wedding day, brought out a children's book during his speech -it was THE book I had owned in my childhood in Southern Africa - and he used it to explain how my life had been shaped by freedom and the desire to stay 'wild'.

I read that book a thousand times growing up, it was my favourite. Reading it made sense of the world I grew up in. It made me feel that it was ok to be who I was, it made me feel whole and confident within myself, and I felt like this cat was some kind of kin to me.

For those who do not know the book - it is a simple, little book about how animals first became domesticated.

The start of the book sets the scene of a beautiful 'wet, wild wood' where all the wild animals live on their wild lone. Woman sits in her cave making the 'blade and bone' magic that beckons all the wild animals to come to her. One by one they enter the cave and she makes a bargain with each of them; to give up their freedom for a life of servitude, and in return, they will be taken care of and rewarded with sensory pleasures. For example, the dog receives a lifetime supply of roasted mutton bones for guarding the cave and hunting with Man, and the horse gives up his freedom to wear a plaited-hide halter and forever carry Man in return for handfuls of fresh-cut grass. All the animals give up their life of freedom, except for the cat, who walks by his wild lone, waving his wild tail, quoting:

"I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me"

In the end, the cat makes his own agreement with Woman, but on his terms.

He chases off mice and plays with the baby when Woman is busy - and in return, receives a place by the fireside and drinks warm milk three times a day. However, he is still the cat who walks by himself and all things are alike to him, living by his own intention, roaming the wild woods as he likes, and never to be enslaved by an attractive bargain.

How does this book help us with belonging and freedom as TCKs, TCK adults, army brats, immigrants & nomads?

Getting married can feel like domestication. Becoming a parent can feel like a taming. Settling into a new country can feel like loss of freedom. We all give up something for the benefit of something we believe is better for us.

I believe the Woman & Man in the book are representatives of our over-culture, our societal pressures that dominate our life by telling us we need to conform in order to be a validated, contributory citizen.

Sometimes this 'pressure' can come in the bargain of a bigger house, a certain car or more material goods. While at other times, it can come in the feeling that we need to act like someone else to be accepted in society, or post on social media in a certain way to be validated. Subtle but overbearing ideals are an integral part of our collective consciousness, and although some conformity is necessary for adaptation, most are a 'one-size fits all' ideal of how we should live our life.

The cat still contributes to the needs of Man/Woman by playing with the baby and chasing off mice - but he does it on his own accord and with the free will to go back to his wet, wild wood. He tells the Woman that he will not give up his wild-self and instead of making a bargain with her, makes himself indispensable so that she simple can't say no.

This, I believe, is vital to life as an TCK. When we arrive in a new country, we need to know the language and the law. We need to contribute to the harmony of the culture by being compassionate to its people and nuances. However, that does not mean we need to make ourselves belong to its customs, its traditions or its over-culture. We have our own 'wildness', our own ways and abilities to take the good from a culture, and leave what does not resonate.

Our 'wild' can be found in our creativity; our art-form, in our writing, our cooking, our passion, our hobby, our child-raising, our time alone - and it is to be kept as a sacred freedom, never to be sacrificed for the sake of allure.

Freedom as expression, and belonging as to ones-self

Belonging is described in Maslow's hierarchy of needs as one of the most fundamental human needs...but I wonder how relevant that is in today's highly migratory world? I agree, we need to find commonalities between similar groups of people, or in landscapes and nature that make us feel a sense of recognition to what we know...but that is only the tip of an ice-berg on the scale of belonging.

The time we spend with like-minded people who make us feel ourselves is relatively minimal compared to the time we spend alone.

If we decided that, like the cat, all places are alike and that freedom of expression is held as the most sacred currency we own, then perhaps our sense of belonging would be more an introspective element, and not a cultural or physical one.

For myself, I do not belong to anywhere - but to everywhere. The freedom I have is my creative expression through being an author and my belonging is a part of knowing that I am truly connected to myself - that totem poll of self that has been made up of many different cultures, life experiences and countries that I have lived in throughout my life. I do not belong to any of them - but they do, to me. They make up the 'me' I am now. A mother, a wife, an author, a poet, living in a vastly different culture to those I was brought up in.

A friend expressed her sympathy for me the other day, when I said I didn't belong in Denmark. She assured me it would just be a matter of time before I felt ok again, that is was just about finding the right sort of similar-minded people, that I should join a pottery class or try this new cacao ceremony in the city. I didn't have the heart to say that it was in fact liberation to feel this way and that I have an immense sense of fulfilment through this form of freedom.

But then again, we have believed for so long that to belonging is a form of external validation that of course it will take a while for the collective to catch up.

Where do you belong? What is your freedom?

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