The Mousetrap Fiasco: A Tale of Good Intentions Gone Bad
Since starting this blog a few years ago, I've mostly avoided telling stories from my personal life. Mostly that's because not much happens worth writing about. I suspect many find the writing here pretentious and wind-baggy enough as it is. I don't need to bore you all to death with tedious tales from my French vanilla life. In any case, the personal experience writing market is already saturated enough. No need for me to add to that.
However, I'm going to break that rule this one time, if for no other reason than it's a story presenting a dilemma I was unable to resolve. It's a lesson learned from failure. As for the worry of writing about people I work with, well, this is a story that reflects poorly on me, and I won’t name any names. And as you'll see, I’m the doofus here, not them.
But first some background: I work in a historic building in downtown Paris, France. Like most old buildings here, this one has some mice. When winter comes, mouse sightings in the building go way up. Since mice are considered pests, it's standard practice to set out glue traps. I did not know this, though, until I heard my co-workers talking about how one of the glue traps had caught a mouse.
What did they do with the mouse, I asked? Well, they had just opened the window and set the glue trap, along with the still squirming mouse, outside on the window ledge. That was on Friday. It was now Monday of the next week.
I asked them to show me. Maybe the little fella was still alive. They took me to the window ledge in question. Nope, there the mouse was, stuck on that trap, but now very dead.
My colleagues thought it was hilarious. To me? Not so much. In fact, they found it kind of funny that I seemed bothered by that dead mouse on a glue trap.
"Come on! Is a grown-ass man really upset about a dead mouse? Pathetic!"
You see, I'm a a vegan. I have been for years now and do it for ethical reasons. So, no, I didn't like seeing a dead mouse on a glue trap.
Nope, not at all.
After this, I rolled up my sleeves and set about to do something about it. The first thing I did was go around and pick up all the glue traps and throw them in the trash.
I would show my colleagues a better, more humane way to deal with our mouse problem! I wanted to be an example of another way, and one not ending with the death of a living creature.
I went online and bought a couple of humane mousetraps, paying for them out of pocket. They duly arrived about two weeks later, and I set them up around the office where the mouse sightings had been most frequent.
Okay, enough background.
Now, the fiasco.
First, the mice proceeded to dunk on me, not once, but three times. The food I left in the traps was duly eaten without springing the trap's door. I felt a bit like Wile E. Coyote during those first few days, coming into the office each morning to check on my ACME traps only to find that the mice had outwitted me again by eating the food without setting off the trap. Of course, this was amusing to my co-workers, my good intentions thwarted by the very rodents I was trying to help.
Next, I tragically scored an own-goal. This part pains me to write.
So I went on checking the traps daily for about a month. Other than those few times when the mice ate and escaped unscathed, nothing happened. Time passed, my attention moved on, and I slowly lost interest in checking the traps. Then the fall break at school sent many in my office on a bit of leave. The guy next door took a week of vacation followed by a week of official travel. His office was empty for over two weeks.
Did I mention that I had left one of my traps in his office? Well, he returned and walked into my office that first morning back. He was carrying the cage. "Well, it looks like your trap finally caught a mouse," he said, smirking.
Yep, it sure had, but the mouse had starved to death because I hadn't been checking anymore.
Not much happened over the next few months. The mice, perhaps chastened by their mate's grisly death from starvation, now avoided the traps entirely. Nothing worked. I moved them around the office and switched to some more mouse-friendly bait. I checked the traps every day now, as I should have before, but they weren't getting fooled again. I'm convinced they now sensed in some mouse sort of way that danger lurked near those tempting morsels. They kept the hell away.
Meanwhile, the mouse sightings continued to increase, many in broad daylight. The grumbling over my lack of results grew louder.
My boss mentioned that he had seen mice scamper across the carpet in his office three times in the last week. He said that my traps were all fine and good, that he admired my "kind heart," but come on, they weren't working. More lethal methods needed to be applied. I demurred. He let it drop for the moment, but I could see where this was heading. My efforts might be vaguely admirable but wouldn't be tolerated indefinitely.
Another co-worker scoffed that I was just virtue signaling. I really didn't want to catch any mice, he quipped, but ostentatiously to show everyone how morally superior I was. That's the real reason I was using inefficient traps that didn't work instead of lethal ones that did. It was all a performance on my part.
I disagree, but I can see how it looks that way, given the course of events so far. The sad fact is I hadn't really war-gamed this out very well. Looking back, one might think I had received my talent for planning from Southpark's Underpants Gnomes.
Really, though, what's the difference between them and me?
Here was my master plan:
Phase 1. Catch the mouse
Phase 2. ?????????
Phase 3. Success!
Say I catch a mouse, what am I going to do with it? As far as I know, there are no such things as mouse sanctuaries. So do I let it go? Where? Do I take it out to the crowded park across the street and let it go in the dead of winter? It would almost surely die of exposure, just like the mouse on the glue trap that spurred me into action in the first place. Do I just take the mouse to another part of the building and secretly let it go, knowing it'll probably just make his way back to the office?
I guess by doing so, I could claim victory by spinning the tale that the traps had actually worked, that no life was lost, and that our mouse problem was solved. But, come on, that would be a lie! I couldn't resolve this crucial issue: once I caught a mouse, I also became responsible for it. Then what?
Unfortunately, I didn't have a viable way to handle that responsibility in a way that also achieved my goal of getting rid of the mice without hurting them. I wanted to show that killing wasn't the only option, but I failed to demonstrate how that could actually work in practice.
What a dumbass!
Then came the weekly staff meeting and the revolt. I should have seen it coming. Patience had finally run out. Several people mentioned all the mice they had seen lately. The boss too. Someone asked if he could have permission to apply his own methods to resolve the mice infestation. Or, as he put it, "to catch the mouse and let it die of natural causes [on the window ledge] through unnatural means [the glue trap].” Hardy har har! In some pique of frustration, he claimed that "The glue traps worked before! What Chief’s (me) doing now isn't." The boss nodded solemnly and replied, "Absolutely, you have my permission to take whatever means necessary to solve your mouse problem. Go ahead, enough is enough."
I heard snickering and giggles break out in the room. I was the butt of the joke, and everyone knew it.
But what did I expect after this virtuoso performance?
So anyway, that's where I'm at now. My approach was well-intentioned but not well thought out. My botched execution has me back to square one, with the caveat that I now look like a bleeding heart idiot. The glue traps are coming back, and there's not much I can do about it. There's no case I can make to do otherwise. I had my chance and bungled it completely. My credibility here is nil.
That's the trap I let myself fall into. I ended up feeding a stereotype people have of vegans as naive do-gooders. I did nothing to change that stereotype. No, in fact, I may have reinforced it.
Unlike other vegans, I haven't faced much overt hostility to my diet over the years. However, mild contempt and subtle ridicule seem to lurk right below the surface when I tell people why I believe what I believe. People will put up with my ethical quirks, as long as I'm not too open about them and as long as they don't become inconvenient. If I try to practice what I preach and show what it means to not kill any living creature, not even a mouse, then that contempt and ridicule bubble back up to the surface.
When you’re the only one in a group who thinks something is wrong, and you say so, then the group will kill you with humor, making any brave moral stand little more than a punchline. Once that’s the case, you’re done changing minds. You can only fight belittling humor with good humor, but there’s a cost to such compromises. When everything’s a joke, nothing is taken seriously. It's odd to say, but humor can be one of the greatest behavior compliance tools in a society's arsenal. If you've ever held a minority and unpopular view on something, you know what I'm talking about. Deviators have to thread the needle between standing up for what they believe in while enduring the very real risk of not being taken seriously.
In another article last year, I wrote that the best way to open minds was to live a quiet example. I called it passive proselytizing, letting a lived example gradually make the case for me. Over time, this normalizes and humanizes a behavior or lifestyle and so makes it harder to ridicule. If I may channel a little Yogi Berra, it's hard to hate someone when you like them. But in this case, my lived example backfired on me spectacularly.
So, what do I do in this case?
Nothing, that's what.
I'll pull my traps since I have no good options for getting rid of a mouse if I catch one. I must at least be honest about that. At the same time, I will do nothing to help my colleagues catch mice on their own. I won’t do it. That's the best I can do for now.
I'll learn from my mistakes and do better next time. In the meantime, I'll hope that the mice are as clever with those glue traps as they were with my cages.
I'm rooting for the little bastards.