The ant and the grasshopper: What do they teach us?
Have you heard of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper? It is one of the fables written by Aesop, a slave and storyteller who is speculated to have lived in Ancient Greece. In the 18th century the story has been rewritten by Jean de La Fontaine. This is the story probably most of you remember from school. This story withholds some morals and fundamental lessons. We should maybe start to look at these lessons from another perspective. In this blog post, I will explore the perspective of the ant and the grasshopper and examine why both of them might be wrong.
Story + main key points
The classical version begins the story with the introduction of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant shows dedicated work ethics. He works throughout the entire summer to make sure that he has enough food in order to survive the coming harsh Winter. The grasshopper on the other hand laughs with the extreme labor efforts of the ant. He enjoys his summer and dances his way into winter. When winter arrives, the grasshopper logically does not have enough food and suffers from his bad decisions in Summer. He has to shamefully ask the ant if he can share his food supplies. The story wants to emphasize the importance of hard work and making plans towards the future.
Since the 18th century, the grasshopper has been compared with the artists in this world. It questions the place of culture in this modern world. That analysis seems quite ironic as stories like this are told and shared through the usage of culture.
Ok, Sarah. I get the story. What point do you want to make?
I want to go through the two views of these marvelous insects by dissecting their own reasoning.
In philosophy we have a fancy terminology to call this practice of trying to have fun, “Hedonism.” Hedonism is a general term for all philosophical theories in which the search after pleasure lies central. However, this sensation of pleasure is not only experienced at the physical level. The feelings of pleasure can be encountered at other levels like fame, reputation, love, knowledge, and art. As a hedonist, the ultimate goal of life is having a life with only pleasure and without any pain. It is important to note that Epicureanism (a school of Hedonism) says that the individual should always strive for pleasure but only within reason and guidance. That is a slightly updated outlook on Hedonism.
If you think about it, most of us do search to maximize pleasure and minimize pain in our life. Maybe we are all just hedonists in nature? Maybe we all have the tendency to be more of a grasshopper than an ant?
Nevertheless, you will still have to plan for the future. If you do not plan ahead, then avoiding pain at every cost might be an impossible task. It might even be a very foolish idea to escape every obstacle. Sometimes, the obstacle might exactly be the way. When we face an obstacle, we will get the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. At least, we can tell ourselves this story. When we fail a test, we say to ourselves that it made us ready for the next test. If we fail a relationship, we tell ourselves we now know which mistakes we will not repeat in the future. When we work really hard, we tell ourselves it is for a greater purpose. This brings us to the story of the ant. Why does the ant work so much in the first place?
The ant on the other hand believes he has to work really hard. He always needs to prepare for the future. Funny enough, planning ahead in the future is actually something novel that we, as humans, have to do. We had to implement strategies for the future since the beginning of agricultural revolution. We needed to plan ahead in order to know how we would maximize the amount food we could produce from our land. Who knew we are actually not born as natural farmers?
The story tells us how much we are in love with hustle culture. We are in love with words like persistence and dedication. It is believed you can achieve anything as long as you work hard enough. If you look at it, that is actually a pretty good story to tell society. This way, you create an army of ants who are willing to work until they die. We idolize hard work, even if the output is not so obviously valuable to the individual or the society. We would rather have a nonsense job than facing the fate of being called lazy.
The ant, however, has a clear goal. He wants to survive winter. What is our goal with this extreme forms of working?
Nobody really benefits from too much chronic stress. Hustle culture is an ideology you can use to fill your existential void. It is how people value themselves against each other. At least, that is what I notice in certain environments. I am still not clear if I believe these environments are rather toxic. I guess my only valid answer in this case is:
You be you
There is no point in defining yourself as an ant or a grasshopper. “You are you” and you should be responsible for creating your own story. I personally believe in a story where we can be both the grasshopper and the ant. You can surely be the grasshopper if you want to indulge in the pleasant moments of your life. There is no point in denying yourself any sort of pleasure. Suffering without any purpose is pretty pointless.
Some substances also have an intrinsic paradox when we look at them from the standpoint of seeking pleasure. Drinking alcohol or doing drugs has always intrigued human beings because it makes them escape negative emotions. On the other hand, too much consumption or an addiction of these substances will lead to a lot of suffering. It is acceptable to actively search after pleasure when you keep the consumption in reason. The possibility is that, just like the grasshopper, when you overindulge, the negative consequences will bounce back and even harder than before.
The same principle applies to your work. You are not defined by your job title or by how much you work. When you work really hard, changes could be that you are also running away from negative emotions. The ant could never truly enjoy the process of working. He never took the time to listen to the beautiful music of the grasshopper. Maybe the two could have made a better story if they worked together. The ant could have worked from dawn until sunset. Then in the evening he could relax and enjoy the beautiful songs and dances of the grasshopper.
You decide completely how that balance works for you. You write your own story. Just make sure to enjoy the writing process.
Stories, like fables tell us more about the morals and ethics of a society. It tells us that work ethics were already glorified since the ancient Greek period. In our current society it sometimes feels that these stories and their meanings get lost. Through this blog post I wanted to reconnect you again with the morals behind the story and link them with two ways of thinking. I came to the conclusion that balance of both hedonistic tendencies and work ethics could be a great solution. Today the new story that should be told is that the ant and the grasshopper got along together rather than neglecting each other. More than ever in these times we need stories to connect and reunite. I hope this blog post could bring back that sentiment.