This week I read a posted question on our Facebook community service page, and I have to admit, I lost sleep over the range of responses. What I am wondering is, what does it say about us as a community, as humans, as humanity, when our first instinct is to crush the smallest and most defenseless among us out of irrational fear?
The posted question was initially harmless enough. “What kind of spider is this?” Followed by, “And how do I get rid of all of them?”
Context matters here. We live in Michigan. There are very few spiders that are dangerous. In fact, I know of only one that supposedly inhabits this place, and I have lived 44 years, mostly in a rural area, and despite the fact that I spend most of my time outdoors, I have never seen one. So, if we lived in a place where a deadly or dangerous spider was more common, then I would not be writing this. But we don’t.
It was not the question that upset me so much that I couldn’t sleep. It was the string of 61 answers. Out of those 61 respondents, only 2 in any way advocated for NOT killing the spider outright.
It was a wolf spider. They aren’t dangerous, nor destructive to humans. I read that if they are, “continually provoked,” they will inject venom which can cause minor swelling or itching. Minor swelling and itching? I can think of things that humans choose to do to themselves that cause FAR more harm than THAT! Spiders ARE, however, a considerable threat to other insects that ARE considered destructive pests to humans! But what did that particular thread of humanity advocate? Crush it. Kill them all. It’s, “ugly and scary,” so kill it! One enterprising responder even suggested setting it on fire! Another indicated they had actually done this before. Sadistic behavior toward living things, no matter how alien they may be with their eight legs and eight eyes, is not a good sign.
Now, I am not without understanding of the instinct that spiders seem to set off in most humans. Fear. I get it. What I do not understand is how we are so unable to THINK past our fear? What does it mean when we want to kill the small, the weak, and the misunderstood? What does it say about our species when we want to kill, not observe nor understand, that which makes us afraid?
Maybe I’m being extra paranoid here. Maybe it is the current, terrifying, social-political climate that is boiling around us. Maybe I am being unreasonable and not understanding a basic human instinct.
But I can’t help feeling strongly that if more people had been taught or gotten into the habit of THINKING when they find themselves feeling fear, “humanity,” might have a better name. Think. Is this creature hurting me or my family? No. Is it hurting my home or yard or garden? No. Is it possibly helpful? YES. Yes it is. Let’s find out more about it. What does it eat? OH, it eats a lot of things that ARE harmful and that we really don’t want in and around our homes. hmmm. Is this an opportunity to teach my kids something? You bet! Did you know that the wolf spider is the only one who can carry her eggs around with her in a nifty little sac attached to her spinnerets? Did you know that she doesn’t spin a web and has excellent eyesight and an especially sensitive sense of touch? She may look creepy, but we can reframe that for kids and ourselves by changing the language we use and behavior we exhibit. We can show our initial fear reaction, followed by a thoughtful response. Can kids take that lesson other places in life? I’d say so.
Big, scary, and ugly? I don’t think that description is exactly exclusive to the spider. In fact, I’d say that description is reflecting right back into the face of the human who said it.
As I’ve pointed out time and time again to my students, “Who is bigger? You? Or them?” “Here’s you (this high) here’s the spider, this tiny (fingers a tiny bit apart). You? This big. Them? This small. Now, who should be afraid of whom?” First graders always laugh and agree that perhaps there is nothing to fear.
This is not to say I am advocating for spiders in my bed, in my face when I’m driving, hanging around near my feet when I’m showering, or crawling into my pant leg. No thank you. But I have two points to make about that. First, how often does that actually happen, anyway? Pretty rare. And secondly, how hard would it be to just put a glass upside down over the spider, slide a card or paper beneath, and dump that lovely lady outside or in a houseplant? That’s my method. I am sure there are others equally respectful. I said, “lady,” because some female wolf spiders actually eat their mates… isn’t that fascinating?
This week my first graders are preparing for a poetry performance in front of the whole school. Their poems, written by Diane Lang in the book, Vulture Verses, feature 6 different, “unloved,” creatures and ways they benefit humans. One of them is the spider. Maybe these seven year olds will be able to teach their adults a thing or two now that they are armed with information rather than a heavy boot.
You don’t have to like spiders. You don’t have to want them in your home or keep them there when you discover one. But please, especially if you have children, think about what they are learning when you scream like a banshee and commit instant murder when you see a creature smaller than your own thumb. Surely, if we cannot control ourselves, how will our kids ever learn to control themselves? If we cannot demonstrate curiosity and observational skills before we leap into warfare, what does the future hold? The spiders might outlast us all.