Trent Ernst, Editor

My house is infested with rats.

Wait. That’s not quite right. How about this: there are now five rats in my house.

They’re all female, all friendly, and all pets. We picked them up a couple weeks ago after about four months of plotting and planning and buying giant cages and the wife sitting down and crocheting and sewing and otherwise creating a bunch of toys and bedding and flooring for the rats.

Seriously, the amount of work she put into making sure the rat house was a rat home was unbelievable.

I know some of you have probably stopped reading, simply because I’m talking about rats. I understand. But the fact is, in the rodent world, rats have got a bit of a bum deal.

Rats are dirty, the common wisdom goes, but of all the rodents, they are one of the cleanest. They groom themselves more frequently and more diligently than the vainest of cats, and when there is more than one rat, they will help groom each other.

Rats are nasty, say people, carrying disease with their bites. Indeed, one of the first thing I remember reading when I was a kid was a Spiderman comic that featured a kid who got bit by a rat and contracted … rabies, maybe? The plague? It was something ridiculous. While some may bite, most rats are given to flight rather than fight.

While each rat is different, they are generally a very social, friendly creature, and highly intelligent.

Indeed, they are typically used in lab experiments because they posses higher intellectual functions, of the sort you’d find in primates or dolphins.

The gangster phrase “you dirty rat,” is typically given to an untrustworthy or dishonourable person, yet, studies suggest that rats might be one of only a handful of species that are capable of empathy.

In an experiment from 2009, a rat was placed in a clear tube with a latch that could be opened from the outside, and a second rat was placed in the same cage. It took the second rat five days to figure out how to open the tube, but once it figured out how to open the tube, it would immediately thereafter open the tube for the first rat, though it benefited the outside rat not one whit.

And that whole bubonic plague thing? It wasn’t their fault. Blame the fleas that would attack anything that moved including the rats and the people.

Yes, rats are misunderstood and maligned creatures, and our negative opinion is based on hearsay and our own preconceptions.

But they’re not the only ones.

We are so quick to judge. To label. To put things and people and organizations into boxes marked “good” or “bad”, simply because we make snap judgments based on the limited experience we have.

We judge people by the way they look even before we take the time to get to know them. Indeed, like rats, we refuse to associate with them because we don’t like the way they look, or because someone else has said something about that person.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many good reasons to not like someone. Indeed, there are so many good reasons to not get along with someone, why do it based on the colour of their skin, or the way the dress, or the fact that someone else had found a reason to not like them?

But more often than not, if we take the time to see past our preconceptions, we’ll find that there are often more reasons to like someone than to hate them. We will discover a shared humanity.

We just have to learn to see past our own preconceptions.

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