“I really knew I wanted to be Adam, because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” – Adam Ant
It is my great honor to hang out with Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s cross country teams once a week and share a short spiritual message at one of their early morning practices. Go Waves! The team boasts impressive athletes, students, and people, and as college students listening to me at half past six in the a.m., they are also generous in not telling me to take a hike.
This year I am generally sharing some message from the Book of Proverbs, which is straight out cheating since I am teaching Proverbs to a class of graduate students in our condo each Sunday morning. I think even Proverbs would applaud my resourcefulness. Proverbs often uses observations from the natural world to encourage wisdom, and this week I used its lessons learned from watching ants. Not the DreamWorks movie. Actual ants.
Brief interlude for an ant joke: What do you call an ant from overseas? (Pause for effect…)
Ha! That’s okay, college students don’t think I am funny either.
So Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach initiative, i.e., it looks like no one is telling an ant to get to work, but it gets to work anyway. (Translation to athletes: Do what is right without waiting for your coach to tell you what to do.) And Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach against procrastination, i.e., an ant collects food in the summer so that it has something to eat in the winter. (Translation to athletes: Don’t wait until race day to train!)
But in the spirit of Proverbs, I kept observing the ant to see what other lessons might be hiding there. Well, actually I googled “lessons from ants” and let someone else do the heavy lifting for me. Again, resourcefulness!
Researchers at the University of Bristol observed that when an ant discovered a new food source it went back to the colony to show everyone the way. As it led the others back, there was a predictable gap between leader and follower, but when the leader was too far in front of the pack, the leader ant would slow down to make sure the follower stayed engaged. And when the gap closed completely, the follower ant would metaphorically give the leader a kick in the butt to widen the gap again.
I think this is important for everyone. For those times in your life when you are the leader, don’t get so far in front that you lose touch with those coming along behind. Your job is to bring others along with you, not set a land speed record. And for those times in your life when you are the follower, encourage your leader to stay out in front. Your job is not just to follow—your responsibility also includes spurring the leader on toward the destination.
Either way, leading or following, you have good work to do.