Tread carefully

It never occurred to the kids that these creatures love life just as we do. Illustration: Sturt Krygsman

  • The Australian
  • It was a strange fairy story I told two children who were visiting the other day.

It began like this: “I woke up this morning at dawn. It was a beautiful day. I could smell the flowers coming into spring bloom. My family and friends were busy around me, each with their own task, gathering food, building tunnels, getting ready for the day ahead.

“One of our soldiers alerted us that there was honey in the far yonder. I joined the long queue of fellow ants as we ran excitedly towards the scent.

“Some were rushing small parcels of food back to the nest but I stayed a while wallowing with joy in the sticky sweetness.

“Suddenly, a deluge of water came down from the sky. Many of my friends died that day. I lost two legs.”

The kids’ eyes were wide with wonder as I continued. The reason for the story was that a few minutes earlier they were hovering menacingly over my bench with a wet rag ready to kill some ants.

We went back to the bench and I put a tissue down with honey on it. The ants all congregated. I then took it outside and left it on the grass. The foot soldiers on the ground soon turned around and left.

It never occurred to the kids, or most people I know, that these creatures love life just as we do, feel, think, plan, are part of communities. Philosopher Peter Singer says you can tell the level of civility of a society by how they treat their animals. I’d extend that to insects, and further down the chain to trees.

Everything deserves to live. We tread the earth as imperialists without a second’s pause for small sentient beings. This indifference filters all the way up to how we treat other humans.

What right do we have to take the life of an ant, a spider, a moth, just because they’re there? Are they in our space or are we in theirs? We can close lids and wipe benches more often.

It’s funny how much of their company we can tolerate if we accept that they aren’t there to hurt us; and most importantly they’ll be gone soon.

Yes, I kill mosquitos when they attack me because they’re dangerous. But most people spray ugly things just because they’re ugly — they’ll kill a harmless spider, but never a butterfly.

Why kill anything at all enjoying its life, trying to survive for a few short days, unless we’re under real threat of illness, bites, poison or starvation? And even then insects can be put outside.

The kids spent a nice afternoon — off Facebook, in nature — watching my ants eating honey in the sun.

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