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Problem solving strategies of the characters in Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat

2013/07/21

There are always lessons to be learned from children’s books. When we encounter problems in our lives, we can be like the mischievous Cat who creates his calamities but then makes new games of them. Or there’s the overwhelmed boy, helpless against the momentum of a crazy cat in his house. And finally there’s the mother, who’s gone into town for the day. How does each handle the story’s central tight spot?

Mom is completely unaware of the problem. The boy is alternately alarmed and intrigued, but ultimately powerless as his house is trashed by the striped-hat-wearing Cat. The Cat is nonplussed, yet accepts his culpability. He meets the situation he’s wrought with the most creativity. After Thing One and Thing Two run amok through the halls, tossing cakes, rakes, books and ships, fish and strings, he produces a special vacuum contraption that can pick up all these things. He’s inventive. Ingenuity is a significant result that can emerge from this situation.

It’s like the Cat in the Hat sequel, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. The cat takes a bath in the little boy’s house and it leaves a pink ring round the bathtub. Oh no! The cat wipes the ring with mother’s white dress and now the stain has jumped to the dress. Oh no! The cat flicks the stain on the wall. That won’t do! Then he wipes the wall clean with dad’s new $10 shoes. On it goes, until the pink stain jumps from the rug, to the bed, to the television, until outside the window, the snowy landscape is covered with pink spots.

But the cat is a keen problem-solver. He takes off his hat and, one-by-one, reveals a team of allies, 26 progressively smaller cats-in-hats, each named for a letter of the alphabet. Together they clean up the mess. It’s a good description of how we can also respond to our problem situations: with the intelligence beneath our own hats. We must parse our instincts into finer and finer points. We must discriminate among them, becoming more selective in which to use when. Through analysis we reassemble our discordant energies into a brilliantly coordinated, more productive response.

The last and brightest of the Cat’s little cats is Cat Z. So small, yet so powerful, he’s impossible to see. That may be a good description for the solution. It’s the intricate answer we never could have reached without all our preceding hard work. Cat Z has something called VOOM -“Voom is so hard to get, you never saw anything like it, I bet. “Voom is ingenuity, what the situation wants us to achieve. It’s the magic potion mixed by struggling with what doesn’t work until we reach the fine mystical blend that does.

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