I enjoy reading about the wisdom of nature in NEW SCIENTIST. At the end of February the magazine published a very short article about the productive ingenuity of some ants. *
Ants live in just-my-own-kind, exclusive communities and don’t share their homes or neighborhoods with other ants, but in the forests of the Ivory Coast a rare exception has been found. Large black ants build nests inside holes in trees and share them with tiny brown ants. Thomas Parmentier, a Belgian evolutionary biologist, says that, “…they belong to unrelated genera and have markedly different behaviours.” (NEW SCIENTIST is an English magazine and uses the “u” in that, and other, words.) It’s not clear why these ants live together, but there might be a clue in those different behaviors:
“…the small ants are highly aggressive, attacking and repelling any invaders, while the large ants avoid direct confrontation. It may be that the larger ants lack a soldier caste and the smaller ants have effectively taken on this role. In return they get a home and food in the shape of other small creatures found inside the nest.” *
There’s something to learn from those cooperative ants. They had different skill sets that, when combined, created a healthy community.
One of my favorite questions comes from R. Buckminster Fuller who’s best known as the creator of the geodesic dome. I haven’t been able to find the exact quote again, but I remember his writing: “What is it that you can do, and only you can do, because of who you are?” That’s a question that can set us thinking about our own skills and abilities and what we might do that the larger community needs us to do.
Recently I heard of two remarkable men who each found a way to use their separate vocations to make a difference. The first was a tattoo artist** who offered to erase or change tattoos that were racist or gang-related without charging a fee. The second was Libyan immigrant, Mohamed Bzeek, who had become a foster parent after he married a woman who fostered children. After her death he continued fostering children, children with a very great need – ones who were terminally ill.*** These two quite different people found ways to make singular contributions because of who they are.
Here’s another quote from Fuller
“I’m not trying to counsel any of you to do anything really special except dare to think. And dare to go with the truth. And to dare to really love completely.”
We live in a time when we’re often too involved in our very busy lives to stop and dare to really think, or to consider what’s true. That advice is not easy to take when everything is about winners and losers. These days “loser” is one of the key assessments loudly made of other people – and we certainly don’t want it shouted at us. So, when we are daring to think, it is even more daring to think of others instead of about how to make our mark in a very competitive world. But Fuller suggests a different goal – not money or fame, but finding ways to love. As far as we know, those ants don’t love, but they have managed to create a way of living together that meets their needs and incorporates differences peacefully.
What might happen if we added Fuller’s advice to his wonderful question? What if we asked not just “What is it that only I can do,“ but “What is it that only I can do that adds to loving or caring about myself and others?” Or, “What cooperative task could I participate in because of who I am that would benefit myself and others ?”
* NEW SCIENTIST, 25 February 2017
** Tattoo Parlor by McKinley Corbley, Good News Network February 2, 2017
*** PBS Newshour February 24, 2017 at 6:25 p.m. EST