Have you noticed how all of life is connected? You probably know about the relationship between honey ants (farm ants) and aphids. The ants can’t seem to get enough of the tasty honey dew left behind by aphids, those tiny sap-sucking insects probably living in your garden. These two insects have a fascinating relationship. In exchange for all the sugary treats aphids deposit on leaves, the ants wage fierce battle against wasps, beetles and spiders that try to dine on aphids for lunch. As those aphids keep their ant friends happy, the ants keep their aphid buddies alive. Everyone wins, except the plants, of course.
The ants do better because of the aphids. The aphids do better because of the ants. It’s a relationship called mutualism, and the rest of us could probably take a lesson. People, too, succeed best when they help others out.
James Bender, in his book How to Talk Well (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1994), illustrates how it benefits everyone when we mutually help each other. He relates a story of a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his best corn in the regional fair where it won a blue ribbon.
One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him to learn about how he grew blue-ribbon corn year after year. The reporter discovered something interesting. He learned that the farmer actually shared his best seed corn with his neighbors.
“How can you afford to share your best seeds with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition against yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
It’s a simple and important principle. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbor’s corn also improves. He cannot succeed simply by watching out for Number One. He succeeds best by helping his neighbors succeed. That’s mutualism.
And I am aware that it goes for me, too. Do I want to succeed? Then I must help others to succeed.
Do I want to live in peace and harmony? Then I need to help my neighbors also live in peace, and the very peace they experience will add to my own.
Do I want to live meaningfully and well? Then I should help to enrich the lives of others, for my own happiness and well-being is bound up in the lives I touch.
In other words, if I want to grow good corn, I need to help my neighbors grow good corn. Call it mutualism. Call it a principle of success. Call it a law of life. I only know that none of us truly wins until we all win.
-- Steve Goodier
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