Can you imagine living in the desert for a whole year, observing the activity of a mound of busy fire ants? Deborah Gordon of The Santa Fe Institute did exactly that, and discovered four main groups of workers: cleaners, haulers, gatherers, and security ants. Each category consisted of an ever-moving line of ants marching in cadence toward a specific goal.
Cleaners carried debris from inside the nest, to a dumping ground. Hauler ants circled the top of the mound, clearing clutter from the entrance. Gatherers marched off on time-consuming missions for food, and security members fought off threats to the community at large.
How could one person observe so much? Deborah painstakingly painted a tiny dot of color on the back of each ant, to the tune of over 50,000 dots! The dots enabled Deborah to chart the course of each line of workers. One of the most fascinating aspects of her study was watching the ants overcome obstacles and threats to their orderly world--a stick across the trail, invading insects, lack of water, and fire.
Haulers immediately stopped to help gatherers; cleaners came to the aid of the security force. None ran for cover, but scurried to and fro, working to protect and serve each other. They overcame obstacles by fulfilling their own tasks, then helping fellow members of the community to excel at their tasks, too. Complex adaptive behavior. That's what Deborah called the ants' behavior.
How adaptive are we when unexpected obstacles or events litter our path? How do we react when people around us stumble? What have we done this week to make our community and world a better place? They're questions worth pondering.
Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established." (Proverbs 4:26 NAS)