Editorials by Robert Kirwan

We Can Learn A Lot About Living From The Simple Caterpillar

The other day I came across a short article that clearly explained why it is so difficult to get people to change their habits and beliefs. The article showed me that a simple creature like the "processionary caterpillar" can teach us all a lot about life if we are only willing to listen.

Processionary caterpillars travel in long, twisting lines, one creature behind the other. A famous social scientist once lead a group of these caterpillars onto the rim of a large flowerpot so that the leader of the procession eventually found himself nose to tail with the last caterpillar in the procession, forming a circle without end or beginning.

Through sheer force of habit and, of course, instinct, the ring of caterpillars circled the flowerpot for seven days and seven nights, until they died from exhaustion and starvation. An ample supply of food was close at hand and plainly visible, but it was outside the range of the circle, so the caterpillars continued along the beaten path until they all died.

It is hard to get emotional about a small group of caterpillars who were too stupid to see that the key to their survival was simply breaking out of their procession and moving over to the food that was within sight. However, the really sad thing about this article is that human beings often behave in a similar way. Habit patterns and ways of thinking become deeply established, and it often seems easier and more comforting to follow them than to cope with change and uncertainty, even when that change may represent freedom, achievement, and success.

If someone shouts, "Fire!" it is automatic to blindly follow the crowd, and many thousands have needlessly died because of it. How many stop to ask themselves: Is this really the best way out of here? So many people "miss the boat" because it's easier and more comforting to follow - to follow without questioning the qualifications of the people just ahead - than to do some independent thinking and checking. People just assume that if everyone else is doing it, it must be right.

But a little checking will reveal that throughout all recorded history the majority of mankind has an unbroken record of being wrong about most things, especially important things. For a long time we thought the earth was flat and later we thought the sun, stars, and planets travelled around the Earth. Both ideas are now considered ridiculous, but at the time they were believed and defended by the vast majority of followers. In the hindsight of history we must have looked like those caterpillars blindly following the follower out of habit rather than stepping out of line to look for the truth. It's a good idea to step out of the line every once in a while and look around to see if the line is going where we want it to go. If it is not, it might be time for a new leader and a new direction.

It's difficult for people to come to accept that only a small minority of people ever really develop a true vision about life, about living abundantly and successfully. For some reason most people wait passively for success to come to them - like the caterpillars going around in circles, waiting for sustenance, following nose to tail - living as other people are living in the unspoken, implied assumption that other people know how to live successfully. So the next time that you have an idea that seems to be different from everyone else - act on it. You may be the only one who really understands and your leadership may be what they needed all along.


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