For a while now, our family has been playing a funny game called “or kittens.”
It goes like this:
“Would you rather step in vomit… or kittens?” “Would you rather have to eat rotten spinach… or kittens?” “Would you rather sleep in a mud puddle… or kittens?”
The joke, of course, is that the answer is always kittens, because the alternative is so disgusting.
Thing is, though, you’d pick kittens over just about anything — so we don’t really need to make the alternative unpalatable. And so, lately, the joke has been turned on its ear.
“Would you rather have a million dollars… or kittens?” “Would you rather be president of the United States… or kittens?” “Would you rather have all the powers of Superman… or kittens?”
The answer is still kittens.
The other day you and your mother were visiting me at the university for lunch. You’d just gotten a scoop of Famous Aggie Ice Cream — mint chocolate chip, with extra chips — and we were talking about how amazingly good the ice cream is at the college’s famed creamery.
“Mama,” you said. “Ice cream… or kittens?”
As good as that ice cream is, your mother didn’t hesitate. “Kittens,” she said.
“Daddy: Ice cream… or kittens?”
Kittens, I told you after just a tad more thought. (I really like Aggie Ice Cream.)
“You know,” I said, “this would make a good survey topic. You should ask some other people.”
You’ve been acting a bit shy lately. You shrunk down in your chair a bit.
“Really,” I said. “It’s easy. The people on this campus are really nice. Watch.”
There was a group of young men — football players, I gathered from their size and bulging muscles — sitting at the table next to us.
“Hey guys,” I said. “Ice cream or kittens?”
“Excuse me, sir?” the smallest of the group asked.
“Ice cream or kittens?”
“Um… Ice cream?”
I gestured to the young man next to him, only slightly bigger.
“Ice cream,” he said confidently.
And then I looked to the biggest of the group.
“Ice creams,” he said, offering a plural emphasis.
“Well,” you said, “that’s three for kittens and three for ice cream.”
If there’s one thing you can’t abide, it’s a tie. A few minutes later you were standing in front of my class with a piece of paper and a pen.
“I’m doing a survey to determine what people like more: Ice cream or kittens,” you explained to my students.
“Wait… we have to choose?” one student said.
“Yes,” you replied.
“Between ice cream and kittens?” he asked.
“That’s right,” you said. “OK, can I have you raise your hands for kittens?”
A lone woman raised her hand in the back of the class. You looked confused.
“Um… again… please raise your hand for kittens.”
The woman raised her hand higher. No one else budged.
“Oooookaaaay…” you said. “Ice cream?”
The rest of the class — nine students in all — voted for ice cream.
“Um, I think I should clarify,” you said. “The kittens are not for eating.”
The students held their ground. The score was 12 to 4 in favor of ice cream.
Your mother tells me you asked a few more people throughout the day as you wandered around the campus, but finally gave up when the results weren’t skewing in favor of kittens.
And that’s life, kid. Sometimes, when we’re searching for truth, we don’t always get the answers that conform to what we think they should be. Let me assure you: The search is worthwhile nonetheless.
These days, it seems, a lot of people are afraid to search — afraid to learn that the world is a very different place from the way they think it should be. And so, all too often, we insulate ourselves from contrary ideas and opinions. We tell ourselves we know enough. We tell ourselves we already know the right answer, so we don’t have to seek any additional information.
And we do this even though the choices we’ve made for ourselves are actually just as silly as ice cream or kittens.
Democrat or Republican? War or peace? Pro-choice or pro-life? Capitalist or socialist?
None of these things is as black and white as we all-too-often tend to think. We live in a world where there is good and bad and a whole lot of gray in all of our choices.
And thankfully, we live in a world in which we can have ice cream and kittens.