A few days ago we decided that the time for procrastination was over and that our six year old son needed to learn – once and for all – to ride his bike. Step one in the process was for dad (that’s me!) to get the tires of his Spider Man two-wheeler in working order for the neighborhood sidewalks. (That’s no small task, by the way.) As I was hunched over in our garage testing the air pressure in the rear wheel, I noticed a june bug twisting and turning with one leg caught in the web of a pretty nasty looking spider. As I watched, the spider made a few quick lunges at the bug, but was mostly just waiting him out.
My first instinct was to free the june bug. After all, no one likes to witness suffering, and this was as clear cut as suffering gets. That june bug was probably going to be dinner for that spider, or at least a late night snack. I certainly wouldn’t want to be that bug.
But then – as clear as if someone were speaking directly to me – I thought, “but what about the spider?”
Sure, it seems immediately compassionate to free the june bug, but what about the starving spider that my “freedom fighting” actions would create? My desire to solve one problem only creates another one for the spider, one that can only be solved by replacing its prey. Who gets to choose which creatures live and which die? Me?
I realized that my desire to free the june bug had more to do with my own discomfort than with compassion. I didn’t really care all that much about the bug, I just didn’t want to live with the knowledge that my inaction would mean the bug is tonight’s dinner for the spider. I wanted resolution for my own conscience.
I wanted comfort, so I wanted the bug to have it too so that I could justify my own choices. This was regardless of what it did to the spider.
So a little abstraction here. First, I think it’s important to note that we are accountable for our actions and for the consequences they generate. It would have been selfish for me to free that bug, because I was doing it for me. Worse, I was doing it instinctually. I wonder how often I do this with people?
Second, this dynamic plays out in my work life too. I always (read ALWAYS) want to let myself off the hook when the going gets tough. I want to quit. I want to avoid discomfort, and I justify any action that allows me to do so. BUT – and I constantly have to remind myself that I wrote about this in chapter three of my own book – the love of comfort is frequently the enemy of greatness. No matter how nasty that spider looks when I’m stuck in the web, my only task is to keep struggling and pressing against the void of my own fear. This is where greatness happens. Brilliance is forged in the bowels of turmoil.
In the end, I decided to let nature take its course. I pumped up the tires, and Owen and I went out for a ride. He did great. I didn’t let him quit when it got tough. Now he’s a pro and loves it.
And when we got back? The june bug was gone. And so was the spider.