While searching the internet for articles about poverty, development and entrepreneurship, I came upon an updated version of the old Ant and Grasshopper fable. It was supplied as an answer to the question, “Why is India still a developing country” on Quora.com, by Bhartendu Ja, who lives in India, so the names and ministries might not mean much to my U.S. readers. However, you all get the gist, and if you’re really curious, you can research the names. I did, but if you are too lazy to do your own and think I should supply you with the fruits of my effort, call a press conference. I will tell you that they are either “social activists” or politicians–big shock–and CPM is Communist Party of India.
The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter. The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs dances plays the summer away. Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.
The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter. The Grasshopper thinks the Ant’s a fool and laughs dances plays the summer away. Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving. NDTV, BBC, CNN , and Asianet show up to provide pictures of the shivering Grasshopper next to a video of the Ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.
The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor
Grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the Ant’s house. Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other Grasshoppers demanding that Grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter . Mayawati states this as ‘injustice’ done on Minorities.
The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the
Grasshopper. CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among Ants and Grasshoppers. Railway minister allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains.
Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Against
Grasshoppers Act’ [POTAGA], with effect from the beginning of the winter.
Education minister makes ‘Special Reservation’ for Grasshoppers in Educational Institutions in Government Services. The Ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, it’s home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the Grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV, BBC, CNN.
Arundhati Roy calls it ‘A Triumph of Justice’. Railway minister calls it ‘Socialistic Justice’. CPM calls it the ‘Revolutionary Resurgence of the Downtrodden’ .
Many years later…
The Ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi-billion dollar
company in Silicon Valley. Hundreds of Grasshoppers still die of starvation in India , …AND As a result of losing lot of hard working Ants and feeding the grasshoppers, India is still a developing country…!!
The theme of the original story was the value of delaying gratification, planning for hard time, especially when you know winter is coming, and of course hard work. It did not encourage sharing, charity or begging. The grasshopper died of starvation and exposure. There is no record of his having asked the ant for help nor of the ant offering food or shelter. In the “real” world, the grasshoppers, the indigent, could avoid dying of hunger and exposure, and could be and often are offered food and shelter. Their biggest problem is not that they danced and played their way through the summer, nor that the ants, the working people, are miserly. Some times the people myself and doing well, for hit a temporary rough patch, and need temporary help to right their ship. The chronically indigent often struggle with addictions or mental illness, and need far more help, but I am convinced from my conversations (with many panhandlers) that they are still the minority of indigent.
What stopped the grasshopper from asking the ant for help? I believe the root of the problem of most indigent individuals is the wrong kind of pride. And neither our own help programs nor the policies that Mr. Ja was mocking and barely exaggerating, do anything to address pride. What do I mean? I will give you two representative examples. Back in 1988 when I got married, I was laid off from my job, by surprise, a couple of weeks afterward. My wife had a job with a major department store, but I had to contribute. You might say my pride demanded it. I felt it was my responsibility to provide for us, even though she could also, but that didn’t relieve me of my responsibilities. This wasn’t pride, it was being grown up. So I took a job with Eddie Bauer, taking catalog orders from the east coast. I started at 5am Seattle time. After my shift I tried selling various items “door to door.” Very unpleasant. During my trips to the downtown Bauer offices, I would be approached by multiple panhandlers. The kind of pride I am criticizing is this: One young guy who approached me appeared sober, so I told him that Eddie Bauer was still hiring, and the working conditions were decent as were the wages. When I told him the salary, he said, “I’m not working for that, I’ll continue to put my hand out.” I ended up going into business for myself and doing well. Him? I have no idea, but his direction was not encouraging.
Example two was a homeless older man living in his van. His tale of woe was that the social security office was denying him benefits and he had to live in his van, so I decided to help him. The truth slowly unfolded. Gus was actually a citizen of Greece, but he had lived here for over 50 years, working as a handyman for undocumented cash. He never applied for citizenship, never contributed a cent to social security, had a daughter in Greece who wanted him to live with her, but she had “too many rules”. I also found out that he had lived in a transient shelter in town, but the director told me that he had offered Gus a job as resident handyman, which included a salary, free room and board with his own room. Gus turned him down, “too many rules”, again. That was the story of Gus’ life, “no one’s going to tell me what to do.” Or, I’m the grasshopper, I play, no one’s going to tell me to prepare for winter. What I called the wrong kind of pride.