Nature is a treasure trove of fascinating phenomena, often defying human understanding and challenging our perception of the world around us. One such enigmatic behavior is exhibited by processionary caterpillars, a group of insects that exhibit an eerie and puzzling tendency to walk in endless circles until they meet their demise. One of the first people to write about them was Jean-Henri Fabre in the early 1900’s.
Fabre experimented with the caterpillars by arranging them so they would walk in a circle to see how long it would take one of them to realize its mistake and change course. He assumed it would take just minutes or maybe hours. However, to his horror, they walked in a circle for more than a week before they started dying.
A Mirror for Us
The natural world often offers a mirror through which we can reflect on our own behaviors and choices. The intriguing behavior of processionary caterpillars, known for their endless circular marches, holds uncanny resemblances to certain patterns of human behavior that lead to negative consequences. By looking at the parallels between these caterpillars and human actions, we can gain insights into the complexity and the unintended consequences that can emerge from seemingly innocuous choices.
Much like processionary caterpillars, people often find themselves caught in repetitive patterns that lead to unfavorable outcomes. These patterns can be observed in various aspects of life, from personal relationships to societal trends. I have personally witnessed it many times within networking groups that refuse to change their unproductive behaviors despite the marginal results of the group. The inability to break away from these patterns, despite evidence of their harmful effects, is reminiscent of the caterpillars’ persistent adherence to their circular marches.
The caterpillars’ circular marches, while seemingly devoid of rationality, also reveal the dangers of stubborn adherence to a status quo that is not working. All too often I meet people who are happy in their hole, and they don’t want a ladder. Just as the caterpillars march in circles despite the evident signs of danger, people sometimes continue down destructive paths simply because they are unwilling to consider alternatives.
A Cautionary Tale
The processionary caterpillars’ behavior, driven by an innate inability to perceive alternatives, serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of critical thinking. This echoes the human tendency to make decisions based on habits, biases, and preconceived notions rather than a rational evaluation of options and more importantly, the ability to engage in behaviors that have proven to work over and over again by other successful individuals.
The inability of processionary caterpillars to adapt their behavior when circumstances change, holds a mirror to human resistance to change. People frequently find themselves clinging to outdated beliefs (often because they “seem” easier), or methods even when they are no longer effective. This inability to alter course to do something known to work can lead to stagnation, missed opportunities, and a failure to address pressing issues within the organization.
The behavior of processionary caterpillars holds disconcerting parallels to certain negative patterns of human behavior. The tendency to blindly follow someone leading them in circles, resisting change, conforming to group dynamics, and perpetuating destructive cycles is a reminder of the intricate interplay between individuals within a group.
Ultimately, the story of processionary caterpillars serves as a cautionary tale that prompts us to reflect on our own behaviors and the potential consequences of our actions. Just as we study and learn from nature, we should also strive to learn from the mistakes and behaviors of people who have a track record of success, using their stories as opportunities for self-improvement and growth.
Don’t just follow the leader – follow the leader who is taking you towards success.