I was recently charged with the task of cat sitting for friends who were on holiday.
It would have been easy if it wasn’t for the constant straining not to look at photographs on the walls. Even when it feels like I shouldn’t be looking at people’s family photos, it can be hard to look away when the photos are right there on the wall. We’re naturally drawn to human faces, which makes it more difficult to resist.
The thing is, I would have felt normal looking at them if the owners of the house were present. It is simply because they were away that it felt wrong. I know that the difference is illogical, and it fascinates me. Perhaps it is because I have never gone to the owners’ house other than to look after their cats or babysit. Whenever I’ve been there, they have been away, so I never got that first “validation” of being in their house at the same time as them on a social occasion. Therefore, it always feels slightly like I am spying or snooping, even though I’m doing nothing wrong.
With this mindset, as soon as I enter their house I avert my eyes and try to look mainly at the carpet, or the lower-half of the room.
Once I’ve seen a photo from the corner of your eye, I wonder, can it really harm to sneak one more glance?… And when I’ve gone and sneaked that glance – and already got the gist of the photo, I think, is it really so bad if I fully look at it?
After I’ve given in and had a good look at one of these photos, I usually try my hardest to forget about it. Which is not so easy, because I really like to analyze things.
And it’s not just photos that I find difficult. Is it right to be looking at other people’s DVDs and books? I actually don’t think it is morally wrong to do this. I wouldn’t mind it if people had a look at my books while I was away. DVDs, I might feel a little more sensitive about, but I wouldn’t really get upset. The main reason I try not to look at their bookshelf is because I don’t want to see anything too interesting and become tempted to find it in my local library. That would make me seem like a total stalker. Imagine if I found multiple books and DVDs that I liked the sound of at my friends’ house, and checked them all out of the library? If they found out, that would be embarrassing.
The thing is, not checking something out just because I’ve seen a copy of it at my friend’s house sounds like a bit much. I mean, what would happen if I just stumbled across that same book at the library? If wasn’t looking for it? Since it’s something that interests me, I probably would have got it out even if I hadn’t seen it at their house.
And if I did find something at their place that I just had to get for myself, the next hypothetical problem would be trying not to discuss it with the owners. Essentially, trying not to let on that I’d seen their copy – so as not to seem intrusive.
In fact, even if I’d read or watched the book or DVD prior to seeing it at their house, I’d still be inclined to avoid discussing it. My conversations would suddenly become unnatural, with me trying to avoid subjects I’d normally have discussed, because I knew too much.
Another reason I wouldn’t want to look at the books or DVDs, is because I like to be sure that I’ve discovered things for myself. It gives me a huge deal of satisfaction to know that I’m not “copying” anyone.
The other thing I have to try to look away from when cat-sitting is medication. But then, if they leave it lying around, can it really be so bad for me to see it? The hard part is then trying not to google it to see what it’s for.
So, that’s media and medication covered. The next question is whether or not it’s okay to tidy up. I think it’s normal to do so if you’re house sitting, but if you’re just popping in there to feed or tend to the cats, it might seem meddlesome. Or offensive. I’d personally be quite chuffed to return from a holiday to the surprise of finding a clean kitchen counter waiting for me. But if I’m the one doing the cat sitting for other people, I worry that they might think I’m judging them if I tidy up.
During the time that the cat-owners were away, we had a friend, Z, over for dinner at our place. At some point during the evening, I had to excuse myself to go and tend to the cats. For a second, I thought of inviting Z to come with me. But straight away, I figured that would be wrong. If the tables were turned, I’m not sure how I’d feel about someone letting a stranger into my house. That’s where the whole concept of chain-trust comes in: Do you trust someone just because an acquaintance trusts them? Can you trust a friend of a friend? How about a friend of a friend of a friend? I figured the cat-owners probably wouldn’t trust Z as much as they trusted me, because they didn’t know him. Come to think of it, how did I know Z wasn’t a thief?
We assume that just because people are our friends, they aren’t criminals. Just because they haven’t stolen from us, they wouldn’t steal from anyone else. I’m pretty sure Z wouldn’t steal from anyone. In fact, when I talked about trust with regards to letting him check on the cats with me, I wasn’t really thinking of stealing. I was thinking more along the lines of information; letting someone into your house is letting them into a part of your life. Just because you’d let a friend in, doesn’t mean you’d let their friend in. What if they had discussions about your house after they’d left? Personally, this idea makes me the most uncomfortable, if it were my house we were talking about.
I didn’t let Z in.