Learning To Care

When was the last time you thought about ants? It’s been a while, right?

Lets change that.

Last summer at work, I established the habit of taking my 9am breaks outside to get away from the heat and fumes that can build up inside a busy welding shop. During these breaks I would go outside, sit on a pallet, and eat some kind of snack.

Naturally, while sitting only a few inches off of the ground, I noticed all the bugs and lizards in the area as they went about their day, and eventually I started to focus more specifically on ants. They were fascinating.

I was amazed by how quickly these tiny creatures could cover relatively massive areas of ground and how they always seemed to be working as a team, even as each individual ranged far and wide. They investigated sand, climbed sticks, and stopped to drink from water drops. It was awesome!

One day, as I was watching these little guys do their thing next to my feet, I decided to see what would happen if I crushed up a cracker for them to eat. Unsurprisingly, once the first ant found the pile of crumbs, it ran off to notify its little ant compatriots. Soon, there was a line of ants carrying my cracker off to wherever it is that ants take crackers, and, while interesting, this turn of events was anything but mind blowing.

What was surprising was that it felt really good to do.

Weirdly, just taking the time to feed some ants a cracker gave me sense of contentment. There was something nourishing in the act of taking care of a creature for no other reason than it was a nice thing to do. I mean, they’re just ants, right? Right?

Wrong!

Those little ants were a vehicle for me to feel really contented for twenty minutes every day at 9am.

Every day, I would crush up a cracker, or break up an apple, or somehow share my food with these ants for no other reason than that it felt really, really good to do. And as I kept up the habit, it slowly became apparent to me that the cracker wasn’t what made me feel good, I just liked that I cared enough to give them the food.

It turns out, the simple act of caring is incredibly uplifting.

Through the lense of some ants and a few crackers, I started to realize that doing my best to care about the people around me could make me feel more contented in my daily life. I don’t even have to DO anything for them, I just try to care.

Now, I’m not about to try to sell you the typical “through helping people you help yourself” trope because, honestly, I haven’t gotten that far in my own journey yet. This experience with the ants didn’t lead me to suddenly start volunteering more (read that as “at all”) and I haven’t suddenly started giving money to charities in the name of loving my neighbor. Honestly, my motive is pretty selfish here: it just makes me feel a little bit better.

So, here’s the challenge. Next time you see a bug in your house, don’t squish it, take it outside. Or, the next time you hang out with ants, feed them a cracker. Take the time just to care a little bit and really examine how it makes you feel. Over time, caring about something as insignificant as an ant will open the door to caring about bigger things, and with bigger things come bigger feelings. I promise you that it feels good.

Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,

-Ian

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