Recently, I not only had the chance to read Henry David Thoreau’s Battle of the Ants, but also to study the text closely, unravelling how the author expresses his disdain for wars by showing the futility of wars through a hyperbolic presentation of the “battle” between red and black ants and comparing this to the Trojan War, the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolutionary War. The more closely I looked into the essay, the more I find parallels between life and war, and if I may even go so far to say, life is but a personal war, though waged against who or against what, I know not.
For some of us, since childhood, we have been exposed to the perils of competition where the adults around us compared us to so-and-so. This so-and-so person could be a neighbor’s child, a cousin or the child of a close family friend. At a young age, we learnt that doing well was insufficient, we always had to do better and therefore we could always do better, building in us a deficit mentality, where we were never good enough. Such values and attitudes would manifest differently later in our lives; while there were some who decide to drop out of the rat race and underachieve during their growing years and perhaps through their adult years as well, there were also others who expend all their energies overachieving. And if I were to think carefully about it, both ways, we would not be happy. For in one instance, we would be warring against the system in rebellion by not realizing our full potential, and in another, we would be warring against ourselves and others within the system to get ahead. In both, there would be hurt and disappointment aplenty, waiting to ambush us. This brings to bear the question if there is more to life than competition and getting ahead.
This was really quite a jolting revelation for me, who never think very much about competition or getting ahead at a personal level, though I did saw some glimpses of that at work on behalf of my team… I am not quite sure if I am ready to take on this question now, if there is more to life than this, at this very early stage of my journey of self discovery. I would like to think that at the very least, I am reflecting on this and trying to find a way of living in this world without having to do battle with self or with the world on a regular basis.