Often the way we feel about a particular person is reflective of what that person represents within us. That is to say, if there is something we do not like about someone else, it may represent a shadow nature that we, ourselves,possess. This is Carl Jung‘s classic idea of shadow projection, and a premise of depth psychology. We hear the terms in today’s vernacular, “…maybe I’m projecting, but I feel as though…” or “That’s his shadow, he doesn’t see how his actions are affecting me.”

Similarly, we can view our relationship to a group, say animals, as reflective of what they represent within us.

Recently, I attended a book signing by author Marc Bekoff, who wrote a book I like called, The Emotional Lives of Animals. In it, Bekoff discusses the unfortunate view of science that laboratory animals do not possess emotions thus they do not experience the suffering of scientific testing. In fact, although it is supposed to be in place for their protection, the Animal Welfare Act excludes rats bred for research from the definition of “animal” for scientific needs.

If we have an industry-approved definition of “animal” that does not include all animals, what does that say about us, as a society? Depth psychology would answer this question by looking at our relationship to what the rat symbolizes.

To begin an investigation, let’s look at the rat as a symbol (any reference to how these animals are regarded in culture will do, I used the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols). As is true for many, there is a light and dark side to the symbol of the rat. A result of their nocturnal and abundant procreation habits, the rat can both represent wealth (as in the capability to create abundance), as well as thievery (as in stealing abundance from another).

So, as a society, how do we relate to the idea of wealth? As the separation of socio-economic status continues to widen across the U.S. population at an alarming rate, what does our relationship to the rat suggest? How do we view the abilities of someone who can generate wealth and abundance for themselves? How do we view our own abilities to create abundance?

Quite timely, one of the most controversial topics in the recent news is the idea of further regulation on the ability to create abundance, that being the question of additional taxation for specific income levels. With the economic crisis, it seems we’re all looking for appropriate ways to relate to our abundance, both personally (should I pay off my home equity loan or take out more cash?) and collectively (should we really give loans to the auto industry?).

To shed light on this topic, from a depth psychological perspective, this would mean taking time to understand our own instincts to create abundance, and secondarily, how we feel about the ability of others to do the same. This means understanding our relationship to the rat.

And so, I invite your opinion…what is your relationship to the rat? How do you see the ability to create abundance in your own life? Do you feel pleased or guilty if you do create abundance, what about if you don’t? How do you see the ability to create abundance treated in our society?

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7 Responses to “What is Your Relationship to the Rat?”

  1. First I thought: A rat??? It makes me want to climb on a chair. I know some people keep them as pets. I've always been shaking my head. The term is obviously used for traitors as well.

    But I haven't thought of a rat as a symbol for some of our pressing issues right now. You analogies are very interesting.

    A lot of us feel the same way about the distribution of wealth issue. The fact that "getting away with things" is ok for the wealthy but not for the poor is ignored way to many times.

    Many of our CEO's have been highly overpaid and essentially robbed the companies they worked for is bothering me. The fact that we as a society tend to ignore this is and turns the other way is bothering me even more..

    But we all look at this from a political angle and don't understand how these issues are represented deeper within ourselves. That's where our shadows come into play.

    So I don't have answers to any of your questions. But you are making me think. Thanks very much for the article!

    • BrendaMurrow says:

      Hi Klaus, thanks very much for your comments! I like how you are seeing these ideas from all different perspectives, and I hope to keep writing things that bring on more thinking and discussing!

  2. Mattrey says:

    It's interesting that in the early days of child welfare in the UK (back in Victorian times with lots of child labor), lawyers fighting on their behalf had to try and class children as animals as they had more protection under the law at the time (it's still the "national society for the prevention of cruelty to children" but the "royal society for prevention of cruelty to animals") . It was thought that children were basically little adults and didn't need any special protections (perhaps we can see some of this coming back with the push to try children as adults for crimes).

    You could say that as we become more technologically advanced as a species overall, we can "afford" to give more rights to animals as we've either replaced their labor by machines or their use for experimentation by software and models. As for food, free range, grass fed etc is always going to be easier for the wealthy. Who knows, if the vat grown meat works out, we won't need them for that and perhaps the only animals we'll see will be at the zoo or over-pampered lap dogs…

  3. BrendaMurrow says:

    Thanks so much for bringing in an international and historical viewpoint! Technology does have the capability to reduce our need to "use" (things, people, animals, resources, etc.), and hopefully it will begin to really improve the way we treat our environment and those who share it with us.

  4. Geoff says:

    Your comment about "projecting" is right on target. Rat as metaphor for abundance (because they procreate, um, often) requires a sizeablemetaphorical leap (at least for me). But that said, one's relationship to abundance is always worth examining…and you've done a nice job with your conclusion by inviting the reader to consider it.

    In my art show/photography business I am challenged with this all the time…as you have noted, the economy is tough. And artists often react by dropping their prices. . .failing to note that the cost of running their business hasn't gone done, nor have their travel expenses, nor ( most pointedly) the fees that the art show promoters are charging to allow them to exhibit! Marketing one's work is a litmus test for their relationship to abundance. If artists react to a down economy by marketing harder, more often, and more strategically, they will succeed without dropping their prices.

  5. Margi says:

    I am not a huge fan of the rodent family. I have not seen rats as a sign of abudance, but rather disease. I completely respect your analysis, and it is quite interesting. I need to get past the "ick" factor to really think about that relationship.
    I think we each own our destiny, at some level. We an create success. We can visualize what success means, and make a plan to get there. I just feel for the people who have not been exposed to all of their options. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a loving, supportive family, a great house, a warm car, and plenty of food to eat – maybe more than I need (to fit in my favorite jeans.)

  6. Margi says:

    I think abundance is one of those terms like succss. How would we define abundance, exactly? I went on a trip this fall with my two sisters. We stayed at the Bellagio hotel, which is gorgeous. One of my sisters had a connection at the hotel, so she got us each a suite. It was a little ridiculous for us each to have a 2 room suite, with three bathrooms each. The hotel sent us wine, a gift basket, etc. It was wonderful treatment. My other sister made a comment about what "rich people" probably preferred when they went to Las Vegas. Her comment was a bit like cold water in the face. How much money would someone need to have in their pocket (or home, bank acount, investment firm) – to be considered rich? I would have to say that trip was the essence of abundance. We didn't eat ice cream sundaes decorated with gold (which I recently saw on the Food Network.) However, none of us went hungry. We all flew to Vegas, and we each stayed in a suite. We saw shows. We ate at gourmet restaurants run by famous chefs. We sat in the sun and were served fruity drinks.

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