The Grasshopper and the Ants

As a child, I watched Disney’s Silly Symphony (1934) based on Aesop’s fable and learned that the ants had it right: be prepared so that you don’t find yourself hungry and cold when winter comes. In other words, be industrious in anticipation of impending doom. The grasshopper was lazy, I was told, and only cared about himself. The ants mercifully took him in, but the Queen declared he must play his fiddle to earn his keep, a deal the grasshopper gladly accepted.

Being a productive member of society should mean contributing something. Often, however, being “productive” is translated as earning money rather than finding a vocation. Earning and spending money is the best way to contribute—keep the movement going, the motor running. Never mind the beauty passing along the way.

But for me, the greatest commodity is not money, but time.

Earning money is only “worth my time” insofar as it pays my bills and keeps me from defaulting on my debt. Because I value my time, earning money for the sake of having money to spend doesn’t feel like a good trade. I would rather not spend money in exchange for more time.

People who know me well see that I struggle with balancing the industrious ant and the creative grasshopper. Can one be both? Is the grasshopper’s laid-back attitude the very material from which his music is made? Were he more industrious, would the music be as sweet?

Sure, the ants took in the grasshopper and fed him with food they had worked hard to gather, but when it was snowy and too cold to go outside, when it was impossible to leave and gather and be industrious, who do you think was entertaining the ants with his fiddle? The grasshopper provided a valuable service—something that could enrich the ants’ lives.

I suspect that the fable presents two extremes. One group suffers a spiritual hunger, the other a physical. It takes both groups to satisfy the needs of the whole.

I’ve never been afraid of hard work, but I am drawn to something simpler. Life in a tiny cabin will mean less expense and less debt. With less house to maintain and less pressure to earn earn earn, I’ll have more time—more time to notice, more energy to love, more space to write.

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