Activity or Accomplishment?

Not Smart Enough for College (49)

Jean-Henry Fabre, a French Naturalist and father of modern of entomology, was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in literature for his works on insect life. One of his most famous experiments was with Pine Processionary Caterpillars.


These caterpillars are named for their instinct to follow each other in processions. These spectacular processions can include 300 or more caterpillars and are often mistaken by predators as snakes. They form a procession by one caterpillar leading and the others following with their heads snugly placed on the tail of the caterpillar in front of it. 


These processions march through the forest with their eyes half-closed, looking for food consisting of pine needles and green leaves. Each caterpillar plods along assuming that the one ahead of him knows where he is going. 


In Fabre's famous experiment he enticed some of these caterpillars onto the rim of a large flowerpot. Eventually he got them all connected so each had its head on the rear extremity of the one in front, forming a circle without a beginning or end.


Instinct directed them to start moving, so they went around and around the rim of this flowerpot. His assumption was that at least one of these caterpillars would eventually realize they were on a useless march and would break the circle. Imagine his surprise as he watched this creeping, living circle continue to go around the rim in a mindless journey to nowhere.


He watched as they continued their relentless pace for several days before sheer exhaustion and starvation finally overcame them. They were so focused on following the one in front of them that they neglected to see that in the center of the pot Fabre had placed plenty of food and water that could have saved their lives.


Fabre wondered why these caterpillars didn't stop and partake of the needed nutrients their bodies craved and concluded that they were following instinct, habit, custom, tradition, precedent, past experience, standard practice, or whatever you want to call it, but they were following it blindly. They mistook activity for accomplishment; they meant well but got no place.


How many of us, and/or our kids, are blindly following “the way it’s done,” “what everyone else” is doing, saying, or believing? It’s natural, easy, to follow friends or others we admire without thinking about where they are leading us. 


Would you accept a challenge? Take a few moments right now to think of one or two things you really want to accomplish, then ask yourself if how you spend your time (your activity) is leading you where you want to go (your accomplishment). Are you mistaking activity for accomplishment? Then, think about your kids and go through the same questions. Now the hardest question of all, is it time to break free?

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