The other morning, as I fed the dog, I noticed something in his water bowl. I thought he must have dropped food in there, so I picked up the bowl, ready to dump it into the sink and get him fresh water. It was only at that point that I noticed the object was a spider.
A living spider. Swimming around. Yeeee. I did not want to pour that into the sink, only to have him crawl around my kitchen some more. I put the bowl on the counter, and filled up the electric kettle. I would boil that spider to death, and then put his body in the trash.
While I was waiting for the kettle, I kept observing my unwanted guest. I felt safe watching him while he was contained in that water bowl. I noticed how he was moving his eight legs. The front two were mostly stationery. The four in the middle were doing something like a swimming stroke, and the two at the back were hanging down in the water, fluttering occasionally. His body was long and thin, in two parts, with a little waist.
A thought popped into my head. “You could put him outside.”
“Nah,” I replied to my own inside-the-head voice. “I’ve got to get to work, no time for freeing spiders.”
The voice tried another tack. “If you put him outside, you won’t have to touch his body to throw it away.”
That was persuasive. I turned off the kettle and carefully carried the bowl of water to the front door. As I walked with the bowl, one of the slowest, careful-est walks I’ve ever done, he curled all of his legs under his body. I wondered why, but wasn’t going to ask. I walked down the front steps, found a spot in the lawn, and poured out the water. The morning light was just peeking over the horizon, so I couldn’t see where he went, if he got up immediately, if he was still alive, and it didn’t matter.
He was out of my house. I had done my best to keep him alive and put him in a more favorable environment. There was a little self-interest in there, too. I didn’t have to touch him, and I felt good about starting my morning without killing another living being.
As I thought about the spider during the day, I came up with some other thoughts as well.
The first, panicked response may not be the best option.
My first instinct on seeing a spider was “aaaaaaaaaargh!” A spider! A spider! A big spider! With his legs spread out, he was bigger than my thumbnail. That’s big enough. Kill! Kill! How do I do that without touching him? Visions of chasing him around the sink with a spatula entered my head. The kettle, the kettle, I would boil him to death. I wondered how often I have a similar over-kill reaction to other unpleasant events.
Observing the situation, even an unpleasant one, may lead to more options
While waiting for the kettle to boil in order to serve my first instinct, I found myself a little fascinated with the spider, watching his legs move. Contained in the water, he started to seem more vulnerable than villain. I wondered to myself why we see spiders as evil and malevolent and lady bugs as cute and friendly? Spiders can bite and a few (very few) can even kill you, but, by and large, they stick to themselves and just eat other bugs. They don’t seek out people as prey, at least not the ones in these parts. Giving myself a few moments to just observe made the intensely scary and unpleasant a little more benign.
The solution that serves the unpleasantness may serve you better as well.
After giving myself that small amount of time to reflect and observe, another option popped in my head, to put it outside. I initially rejected that as too much trouble. What if it sloshed out of the bowl, what would I do. But I told myself I would get more satisfaction out of setting it free than killing it. Boiling it to death also just seemed a bit draconian. And again, this solution would suit me better as well, sparing me the possibility of dealing with its dead body.
Observation and Reflection
Observation and reflection are powerful tools for leadership and decision-making. Our fast-paced corporate world doesn’t always seem to allow the time to use them. But the next time I encounter a spider, a real or metaphorical one, I hope that I will remember to take a step back and try to find a solution that serves us both, and avoid reacting out of fear or anger. It didn’t take long, just a minute or two, for me to realize that I could treat that little guy with kindness.
But if I encounter a cockroach, all bets are off.