Revered or reviled? You decide...

When I walk through the NYC parks, I often see rats foraging through the leaves, under the trees, just like the squirrels do.

The reaction from most people when they see rats is very different than their reaction to seeing squirrels.

Sometimes they’ll squeal, “eeeek,” or “ewwwhhh gross.”

The rat will quickly scurry away to hide, and the human will often run away in the opposite direction, afraid to be in the same vicinity with that disgusting little rat.

Interestingly, these same, grossed-out people will actively call to the squirrels and attempt to hand-feed them delicious treats.

The difference between these two common rodents is simply a matter of perspective.

One has a visually appealing plush fluffy tail, big brown eyes and puffy cheeks, and the other… well… has a long bald tail, thin face, small beady eyes, and a sordid history. The latter could certainly use a good marketing campaign to lift it up out of the gutter.

Rats have been reviled throughout Europe and America for centuries. The trouble began in the 1300’s when it was believed that rats were the carriers of the Bubonic plague (Black death) that swept through Europe killing millions of people.

According to the classic, Sugar Blues, by William Dufty, the real contributor to the Black Death was the high consumption of refined sugar cane and refined flour that was becoming a staple in the human diet at that time in history. His research suggests that the overconsumption of sugar weakened our immunity allowing the plague to wreck havoc on us.[1] [2]

More recent studies are insisting that the most vilified pests in history deserve an apology from us. Current research indicates that the transmission of the Black Plague was from human to human, not from rat (or flea) to human. The plague spread quickly throughout the winter months when rats and fleas were not as active, but this was when the majority of human deaths occurred.[3]

As the weather grew colder, the human immune system became more compromised, especially with the overconsumption of refined sugar and flour that was being eaten at that time. We know today that refined sugar can compromise the immune system, as well as many other bodily systems.[4]

I believe it’s time to let this unjustly vilified creature live in peace.

Years ago, I remember walking through Central Park and seeing dying rats flopping about on the grass after being fed rat poison. Inevitably, the owls and hawks in the park began dying as well. It made perfect sense… we poisoned the rats but neglected to think about the larger ecosystem and the other animals that were consuming the rats for dinner.[5]

In China the rat is revered for its intelligence and strong vitality. It has a high survival rate and the ability to adapt very quickly to changing conditions. “The Rat lives in nature and can react to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, flood, drought, and a plague of locusts, so it was considered to be a godly creature by ancient people.”[6]

As we experience our own current rash of disasters that are sweeping across nations (wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes…), I think it would be wise to take a resiliency lesson from the rat and learn how to quickly adapt to our rapidly changing world.

What are your thoughts about this little creature?

[1] http://www.whenthenewsstops.org/2012/01/sugar-blues-by-william-dufty.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_Blues

[3] http://www.history.com/news/can-we-stop-blaming-rats-for-the-black-death

[4] https://www.rodalewellness.com/health/sugar-and-health

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/nyregion/groups-press-state-to-ban-poisons-that-kill-wildlife.html

[6] https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/rat-chinese-zodiac-sign-symbolism.htm