My Cat Theory

Sometimes simple misunderstandings start with something innocent and then grow into something unintended. This happened to me at a reception in Bangladesh.

During one of my many trips to this country, I was invited to a post-conference reception at a private home. It was a lovely place, with plenty of space for the 60 people who attended. I socialized with several of the participants before finding an empty seat on one of the many couches. A small cat jumped on my lap. I petted it for several minutes. Then, without warning, it jumped on the lap of the woman seated next to me. I thought nothing of it. A friend joined me, and we began to chat.

Later that night, Ali, our host, asked, “Matt, what is it between you and Zareen? She is telling everyone how rude you are.”

Not knowing what he was talking about, I said, “Zareen who?” He pointed to a woman across the room, the one who had sat next to me on the couch. “I have no idea what you are talking about. I never spoke to that woman,” I replied.

“She said that you picked up my cat who was seated on your lap and tossed it onto her lap. She called it one of the rudest things she ever saw. She hates cats.”

I felt baffled until I remembered the cat jumping from my lap onto hers. When I went to her to explain the simple misunderstanding, she repeatedly said I was a rude man, then stormed off.

Especially with cats, things happen that can be misunderstood. Most misunderstandings occur because of limited information or false assumptions. How many events in our lives are based on the same thing? How many fights and arguments start from a lack of sufficient information?

Lesson: We must accept that things happen without our knowing all the details. It is important not to get upset with people based on misinformation and uninformed assumptions. Sometimes things just happen. Give others the benefit of the doubt. We can apply this lesson to our work place, our relationships and more.


Published by Matthew S. Friedman & Sylvia Yu Friedman

Matthew Friedman is an international keynote speaker, the CEO of The Mekong Club, and a former United Nations and U.S. diplomat. A leading global expert on modern slavery, Friedman has more than 30 years of experience as an inspirational and motivational public speaker. Check out his latest powerful Penguin Random House memoir, Where Were You? A Profile of Modern Slavery. Sylvia Yu Friedman is an award-winning filmmaker, investigative journalist, international speaker, serial entrepreneur, and advisor to philanthropists. She is the author of three books: A Long Road to Justice: Stories from the Frontlines in Asia (Penguin Random House); Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women, the only journalistic account of Japanese military sex slavery during the Second World War, and Heart and Soul: The Life Story of Pastor Augustus Chao. Sylvia is a serial entrepreneur and works with family offices in Asia and the U.S.

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