“As a kid, I lived in a fantasy world. I used to believe ants could talk. Not once did they say thank you.” ~ Willard Wigan
Ants bite and sting. But so do people…in their own human way. And I’ve experienced both. I don’t want to harm any critters, so when I saw a huge ant crawling on my kitchen floor, I picked him up to put him out the back door so he could return to his family, still alive to hunt another day. Well, that ungrateful thing bit me several times, and my finger swelled up, got burning hot and itched like crazy. How’s that for gratitude? Next time I will literally put on a glove to protect myself.
“The work on ants has profoundly affected the way I think about humans.” ~ E. O. Wilson
Looking back, I think about how some of the people in my life remind me of the ant. Or does the ant remind me of them? The ant probably didn’t know I wouldn’t hurt him, and he felt threatened, like people do sometimes. And he did what ants do to protect themselves. Yes, there’s a big difference between ants and people, but there’s a similarity between all living things. They respond in negative ways when they feel threatened. I suppose that’s why some people in my life act like ants. Most are pretty easy to get along with, but I’ve been painfully bitten by people enough times to know the difference.
An innocent, even helpful, gesture can sometimes be misinterpreted and bring a negative response from someone…family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, any relationships. Maybe they’re not feeling well, they’re preoccupied, or going through a difficult period. But you know the ones who generally give you a hard time. Those are the ones who probably feel insecure and experience real or imagined threats. They may have a need to be right and be in control. They may fear loss of stature, or experience an injured self-image. When your presence threatens any of their issues, they can bite with a response anywhere between passive-aggressive behavior to open hostility toward you.
“Kindness in ourselves is the honey that blunts the sting of unkindness in another.” ~Grantland Rice
When I first started working in the jail with the Mental Health Team, there was a Sergeant who was always rude and uncooperative. I figured he thought we had invaded his territory and felt threatened by our presence. So I confronted the issue, complimented him on his work, and reassured him we were not there to threaten, but to help. He took this approach well, and we became close co-workers.
“Friendship should be more than biting time can sever.” ~ T. S. Eliot
In any encounter with a person who acts like an ant, there are several ways to approach a peaceful solution.
1. First look within: See if you’ve done anything to set them off. If so, work on a different approach next time.
2. Consider and decide: Think about the ant people in your life, and decide how much contact you want, or need to have, with them.
3. Reassure: If you want to work on the relationship, choose a peaceful time, and share your feelings. It’s important to reassure them you’re not a threat. This worked in my jail experience.
4. Use Gloves: If the other person still feels threatened and doesn’t respond in a positive way, then put on gloves to protect yourself. Putting on gloves means using any ‘last resort’ tactic to alleviate the problem. This can be done in a kind, peaceful way with one statement, “You seem upset. I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then walk away…walk away. Threatened people aren’t used to this response, and it may cause them to stop biting you like an ant.
5. Let it go: Your responses may not change a threatened ant’s behavior, so decide how much of your time you want to give to the relationship…from none at all to as much as usual. Then deal with whatever you’re willing to tolerate, and work on letting go of your own frustration and/or pain.
I wish you many bite-free days and happier relationships.
Marilyn Fowler, Writer and Author of “Silent Echoes”