Recently, I got a text from my roommate wanting to know whether we had anything to kill the ants in our bathroom, and I asked him a simple question.
“Why not just leave them alone?”
I could tell by the long pause he wasn’t sure how to answer.
Eventually he said, “Well I’m clumsy and I don’t want to step on them.”
I replied: “So you don’t want to hurt them, but you want to kill them?”
He never wrote back.
In Defense of Ants
Maybe you think I’m crazy for defending the life of ants. After all I’m not a vegan, an animal rights activist, or a practitioner of Jainism. But I think the question of why we kill ants is interesting. It reveals a lot about what keeps us in a state of suffering and unhappiness despite the wealth and opportunity most of enjoy.
All About Ants
On the West coast there are anywhere from 200 – 300 different species of ants. Of those only 12 species are pest ants, meaning that they cause some damage to structures, eat food, or sting or bite. That means that of all the ants on the west coast only 4.8% of them actually cause problems.
Still, most of us seek to destroy ants with wrathful vigor when we get them in our house. Why?
Here are the reasons most commonly given for killing ants:
- They’re dirty The reality – Ant’s are actually quite clean. In comparison, our human cohabitants are the +1 source for the bacteria and viruses we come in contact with.
- They damage structures. The reality – Only a very small percentage of all ant species we encounter cause damage to structures. It’s just a subset of that 5%.
- They ruin food. Most ants don’t eat through food containers. Mostly they eat what we fail to clean up. And all you have to do is store food in the right containers and this won’t be an issue.
- They’re a nuisance. What do ant’s do, exactly, that bother humans? Most don’t damage structures, eat food that’s been stored, or bite or sting in any way. So what’s the problem? Bad PR?
The Problem With Ants
The problem with ants is the human mind. The human mind does one thing very very well: notice, creating, and creating patterns. Everything from language, to farming, to math, to music is dependent on the human mind’s ability to work with patterns.
You like finding patterns, and you like to create patterns of order around you. It helps you feel like you’re in control.
But the universe isn’t an orderly place, at least not in the way you’d like. Sure, I know the laws of physics blah blah, but really the universe is messy.
There’s star crap everywhere, meteors flying around, not to mention random dog poop on the side walk. If you’re alive, then you’re constantly getting things you don’t want, like baldness, taxes, wrinkles, annoying people, and emotions that are hard to deal with.
Despite our constant attempts to proclaim our mastery of all the universe, it is constantly screaming at us: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL!!!
But we refuse to listen. We build towers that we claim won’t’ fall, ships we claim won’t sink, and businesses we claim will never die. We do everything we can to show our power, our strength, and our ability to overcome the forces around us.
Then you go home, walk into our bathrooms and you find ants. The AUDACITY of these tiny beings have as they remind you, YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL!!! And so you must kill them. You must restore order. You must restore your illusion of control. Otherwise you’ll have to realize that you’re not in control and that someday you’re going to die.
The ants are a reminder that we are part of the messy, disorderly universe. Nothing you build will ever truly be permanent. You must kill the ants or face the simple truth of your life. But you really don’t want to kill the ants. What you really want to kill is the fear, the stress, and the desire for something you cannot have.
So what if instead of perpetuating this illusion, you stopped fighting it? What if you stopped trying to pretend you’re in control. What if instead of trying to hold on so tight your knuckles turned white, you just let go?
What if you saw what you could change, did your best, and then at the end of the day you went home saw the ants and remembered it’s not all about you.
What if you saw the ants and instead of imposing your power you let them be. What if you left the ants to remind you that your life is a negotiation between you and the universe.
When you try to control everything you make yourself mad. Real power comes from responding in each moment. So watch the ants. Be calm, Be patient. Let go of control. And learn to lead others as you lead your own life.