Wiehann de Klerk
Nature tells us a story, and it is up to us whether we choose to listen, or whether we choose not to. Ants, with their way of life, mindset, actions, and lifestyle are above reproach and most certainly, carry life lessons.
Proverbs 6:6-8 - Go to the ant, you sluggard, observe her ways and be wise. Which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.
There are five things that ants do very well, that humans sometimes do not, and when we look closely at their ways, we can improve ours. Ants cooperate, doing greater things than that which they can do themselves. They strategize and then implement the best approach toward the achievement of specific goals. They commit to achieving fast without postponing success. Ants adapt, and make themselves flexible in order to change fast and gain advantage. Finally, ants give, without expecting anything in return. Below is a summary of each of these actions, virtues, and values that ants possess, and why it is important for us to implement these ways in our lives:
Ants assist one another in their work, united to enlarge potential impact and to achieve acts of power.
They never hinder each other, instead assist one another, to unite their individual strength to do bigger and greater things. From what I have seen, ants are the only species that understands organic teamwork; they do it automatically - it just happens. Each individual ant takes on the role of project manager - there is no hidden agenda. They all understand one another, what needs to be done and they do it. Some build, others dig, one gathers, while another buries, and some defend while others protect. They achieve synergy all the time - a synergy that humans hope to achieve. Ants cooperate so well together that some even do nothing. What? Yes, you read that right. In certain colonies, up to 40% of the colony does nothing. However, they are not lazy; they are there as a reserve labor force, to be called upon when needed. Instead of being lazy, they are inactive ants, ready to be activated when needed. They are ready. Can you imagine seeing this level of cooperation in a real workforce? Being overstaffed, to ensure that when a staff member is sick, someone can be called in immediately. Humans will not accept this - there would be complaints about unfair treatment - "I do all the work, and they do nothing" et cetera. A study done by Daniel Charbonneau, Takao Sasaki and Anna Dornhaus, published by Plos One, found that when 20% of the active ants were removed from the colony, the inactive ants stepped in to ensure that everything ran smoothly.
"You are only as good as the team you have, and when you don't have a team, you are only as good as you can be - you do the math."
Ants have a plan, methodology and framework for every action; they have specific goals at a specific time, in order to achieve a specific result.
Proverbs 30:25 - The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in the summer.
Ants aren't strong creatures if you think about it. What is weaker than ants, in comparison to us? With one step, we can kill a multitude of them. Yet, despite their weakness, they still do what needs to be done, and they do it well. Ants sleep in winter, and therefore, do not eat during this time. As a result, collecting food during winter is not an option, so, they choose to collect their food at times when food is plentiful, and in the proper seasons. They do not merely do things for the sake of doing them; they do things in such a way, that at the end of doing it, it achieves a specific result. They do things at the most opportune time. Not all humans do this; sometimes people do things because other people do it. We call this social proof - "oh, if that group did it, then it must be a good idea." If just one person does it, it doesn't mean much, however, as soon as a large group of people does something, surely it has been proven to be a good idea, so, why not do it too? Think about alcohol. Many people only consider an evening out a good time if they get drunk - ignoring the damage that it does to their bodies. Drinking alcohol, and the act of becoming drunk has been popular since it was discovered. Drinking has often been a social thing - a cool thing to do; anything is cool when everyone does it. It's just human to think that way, but most certainly, it's not ant.
Proverbs 24:27 - Prepare your outside work, make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house.
Ants are laborious in their actions, and no other insect comes close; not even the bees.
Ants are powerful, capable of lifting three times their weight and dangle while holding 100 times their body weight. They are strong, but unlike humans, they use their strengths continuously. No rest is needed.
Proverbs 6:9-10 - How long will you slumber, O sluggard?When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.
That state of sleep, so deeply searched for by many, is an unfortunate state of forgetfulness and even ignorance, purposely forgetting and ignoring that which needs to be done. If you think about the Bible, it is a record of humans and their state of depravity. Again, here we see this state of deep sleep indicated as being yet another depraving act. Let us arise from our deep sleep, our abominable ignorance, and step into action, to do what needs to be done. Sleep being a state of privation and insecurity, and action being a state of fulfillment and boldness - a comparison of these showcasing the importance of action. To do what needs to be done is the change desired in all, for the betterment of the human race. Ants understand this, and most assuredly arise from deep sleep, for the betterment of ant colonies. Deep sleep should be defined as being idle, useless to society. I understand that we must sleep, but the deep sleep mentioned here is not that of rest from hard work, no, but that of rest to ignore what needs to be done; binge-watching TV shows, napping in the afternoons and sleeping for longer than your body actually requires. There are a number of reasons why people might choose to engage in deep sleep; to withdraw themselves from what they need to do, because they hate or dislike what they do; to obtain some elementary pleasure, because they cannot find pleasure in the small things; and to satisfy a belief that time moves slowly, because they fail to understand that the only time is now (check out blog, The Moment).
"Inaction is a state of privation and insecurity; action, a state of fullfillment and boldness."
Deep sleep is not only related to laziness but is dangerous; it moves us in the opposite direction of where we need to go. Those that work hard have little or no time for sleep; no greatness can be achieved in a state of idleness, and in this state, heaviness comes upon us. We become heavier as the weight of what needs to be done, and has been postponed, comes upon us. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep" are the thoughts that come to the mind of a sluggard when called upon to awake and take action. First, he enquires about the possibility of "a little sleep;" and if this is not allowed to him, he requests "a little slumber," a little nap here and there to awaken him; and just in case these options are not available, perhaps "a little folding of the hands to sleep," a few hands on his chest, a few tosses and turns on the bed to get into that comfortable position. Put simply, sleep is required for nature, but deep sleep is not, as this leads to poverty. Let's imagine, just for a moment, that ants lacked the work ethic to store up food for the winter; they slow down, catch up on some unnecessary sleep or even, twiddle their thumbs as they ponder on their laziness, what would happen? Well, it would be a catastrophe - there would be no provision in times of need, and their laziness would, most likely, lead them to death. You might think, “come on man, my actions of binge-watching TV shows surely won't lead me to death”. You're right, it might not, at least not in its true sense. However, your actions will most definitely lead you to a place of feeling dead; that place where you are worthless to society. A place where, due to your inactiveness, you have been hidden from those that can uplift your gifts and abilities and those that can experience your potential and the value you can provide them. A person's idleness might not lead them to natural death; however, it can make them truly dead to the world. Think of a hero in our world today - without a doubt, they were not idle, and worked hard to provide some value to our lives. They knew that the only way to provide value is to be valuable. Deep sleep does not provide value to anyone; not yourself, your family, or the world economy. To be a hero in the world or at least a contributor, you must provide value. Ants decide not to lead themselves to death with sluggard activities, but instead, choose to work hard in the summer months in order to sustain themselves and those around them during the winter months. Sustaining their colony = providing value.
"The only way to provide value is to be valuable."
Ants are flexible, and change fast in order to gain advantage.
Professors and researchers from the University of Sydney, in conjunction with Uppsala University, completed a range of tests, to check whether Argentine ants can solve dynamic optimization problems (problems that require adaption and change to find a solution). Findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, which I must say, were quite impressive. Ants are not only able to solve mathematical problems but also able to find the optimal solution to a dynamic, changing problem; something very few computer algorithms can do. The ants were given one hour to solve a maze, inspired by the Towers of Hanoi maths puzzle, by creating a high-traffic path from their nest to the food source. After the maze was solved, the researchers blocked off the path created by the ants and opened up new areas of the maze. Immediately, the ants found a suboptimal route as a temporary solution to the sudden problem. However, after only one hour, the ants, with their dynamic problem-solving abilities, again successfully resolved the maze, abandoned their suboptimal route and traversed along a more favorable route. In this process, it was clear that ants were willing and able to change fast. The challenges placed before them did not cause them to stress, but instead, to change. There is a big lesson for us here. Instead of worrying, or stressing about sudden changes in our environments, we should change fast, implement new strategies and adapt. The fast change allows us to climb the ladder to success, faster than those around us. John Wooden once noted that "flexibility is the key to stability," and I cannot agree more. People want safe and secure jobs in the information age; however, they choose to be rigid and inflexible. If you want stability, you must have flexibility. I understand that it may sound counterintuitive, but, if you haven't noticed yet, we live in a world that requires us to be innovative, and being innovative is all about being counterintuitive - sometimes you have to move south to move north. So, join me on a journey of flexibility, change, and adaptability, alongside our friends, the ants.
"If you want stability, you must have flexibility."
Ants are givers; they understand that giving leads to longevitiy for the colony. In the life of an ant, its about we, not me.
Ants have two stomachs, not to partake in more gluttonous activities like some humans or to be greedy, but to store food for others; one stomach for feeding and one for giving. This process is known as trophallaxis; enabling ants to feed those that stay behind (the inactive ants) and to be attentive to the duties of the colony, and also the queen. This is a powerful giving philosophy, and something, most assuredly, that humans struggle with. I also find this difficult at times. When was the last time you set up a giving account to deposit money into, in order to save for the purpose of giving? This is a habit that, when implemented, works powerfully. Instead of giving away, say, a $50 note to someone, you save $50 every week for a certain period of time. Put a date in your calendar and select how many weeks. I did this exact thing a few years ago, and did it for ten weeks, resulting in a total sum of $500. I took the $500, walked into a church service and paid for two young teenagers, who had no money and were supported by poverty-stricken parents, to go to a youth camp, and have a weekend getaway with friends. This was not an easy thing for me to do at the time when I was studying, but what a blessing it was to do this; to store away wealth, in order to give it away. Sometimes, I love to imagine a world where humans approached life with a "we" mentality, instead of a "me" mentality. How amazing would this be? This is what life is all about.
"The act of a gift touches the heart of those that recieve it - a soothing reality that life is meant to be selfless, not selfish."
Points to Ponder:
What parts of your life right now need the assistance of a team, and what can you do now to be more team orientated? What are your goals? When you clarify these, what strategies can you adapt to meet your goals? What areas in your life need greater commitment right now? If you dislike change, consider some things you can do to radically shift your risk tolerance. In what ways can you implement the two stomach giving approach to life? Life is all about we, not me.
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