We were on a family outing a week or so ago and my son killed an ant.
It wasn’t one of the little house ants, either. It was one of the huge black ones that you’ll sometimes see out in the woods.
Now, this seems like a rather ridiculous blog topic, but I wanted to memorialize this moment because I think we all took something away from the incident.
My immediate reaction was to watch my son following the ant, then say “No . . .” when he reached out for it, and finally “What did you do that for??” when he smushed it with his finger.
My husband’s immediate reaction was to take our son out of the line for the activity we were waiting for, and sit him aside on a bench while I continued to wait with our daughter.
“The ant didn’t do anything to you,” my husband said.
So you may be wondering, “why all of the kerfuffle over one ant?”
Well, times are touchy. Everyone’s on edge over COVID. We are coming off a month of national protests, not to mention Pride celebrations and Juneteenth, and we’ve had to have some fairly difficult conversations with our kids about George Floyd and racial injustice. It’s a bit much for a 5- and 3-year-old to take in (not to mention this 36-year-old).
So perhaps killing the ant just seemed particularly callous to us in that moment.
That’s not to say that our son is a monster. He’s curious. He likes bugs and worms. He wants to see what happens when they squash. He’s also trying to protect his sister, who doesn’t like ants.
But this became a teachable moment. A moment to think about empathy.
Was the ant bothering you? No. Was it crawling on you? No. Was it about to eat your food? No.
Then what right do you have to harm it?
That’s not to say I don’t wage a battle in my home every year to keep ants from making their way into my pantry and trash cans (hypocritical, I admit), but still, they’re pretty cool. They are very social. They can carry 50 times their own body weight. They can live a really long time (some queens can live up to 30 years). Some can even fly! They help aerate the soil and eat pests that destroy crops.
Education is half the battle here. The other half is helping the kids to understand why they shouldn’t go around wantonly killing living creatures. That lesson is a bit harder for young kids. But the more we talk about it, I do believe, the better human beings they will grow up to be.
The Golden Rule still applies, even when we all seem to be at each other’s throats. Even when tensions are high at home after having everyone cooped up together in the house for months. Even when protests are in full swing. Even when we are fighting over whether or not to wear masks in public. Even during an election year.
It’s important to be kind. Would you like it if someone came along and squashed you? Or squashed your mom/dad/son/daughter/brother/sister? We may be ascribing too many human emotions to the hapless ant here, but nevertheless, the ant wasn’t bothering anyone. We should have just left it alone. Learned about it. Celebrated why it’s an important part of this planet.
Live and let live. Be kind to each other. Be kind to each living thing you see, no matter how small. We’d all get through this year a whole lot easier if we did.
RIP, little buddy.