What, you may ask, does Ants vs. Grasshoppers have to do with retirement?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Stay tuned as we study a metaphor that applies to all of us as we deal with the realities of preparing for retirement. Are you an ant, or are you a grasshopper? What’s the difference, and what implication does it have for our retirements?What does Ants vs. Grasshoppers have to do with retirement? A lot, as it turns out. Today, we dig into a fascinating metaphor. Click To Tweet
Ants vs. Grasshoppers
The Aesop Fable titled The Ant and the Grasshopper is summarized as follows by Wikipedia:
“The fable describes how a hungry grasshopper begs for food from an ant when winter comes and is refused. The situation sums up moral lessons about the virtues of hard work and planning for the future.”
Aesop wrote the ants vs. grasshoppers story in Ancient Greece around 600 B.C. While initially intended to be a metaphor praising hard work and planning, many commentators in later centuries have debated what lessons the story holds regarding charity and compassion versus selfishness.
Should the ant have refused to help grasshopper, or should she have been generous and shared her hard-won “savings” to help the grasshopper survive the harsh winter? Deep subject, this.
In spite of my liberal arts education, I wasn’t aware of this particular Aesop Fable until a savvy reader, “Elkay” used the metaphor in a comment on my recent post “Are We Facing A Retirement Crisis”. Since reading her comments, which I’ll summarize below, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story and it’s application to all of us today.
I Suspect You Are An Ant
Since you’re reading a blog on personal finance, I’m going to assume you’re most likely an “Ant”. You’ve been busy during the summer, responsibly working to store up food for the winter. Meanwhile, the grasshopper (actually a cicada in the original fable) enjoyed carefree singing during the beautiful days and worried not about the future.
Your “winter” (retirement) is now approaching, and you’re pleased to have your stash of food stored in your underground burrow. You’re analyzing your spreadsheets, and you think you’ve stored up enough to make it through the winter. You’re debating when you can stop gathering food and “retire” to your comfortable burrow for the winter.
Life is good.
I Suspect You Know Some Grasshoppers
As you’re crunching your numbers, you get a phone call from your family member, The Grasshopper. He’s been enjoying his life, singing his song, and is surprised when you announce that you’re planning on retiring. After the call, he looks at his food store (bank account) and suddenly realizes he’s got a problem. The weather’s turning colder, and his store is empty.
Life is bad.
Should you help him?
Thinking more broadly, as I did in the Retirement Crisis post, and we quickly realize there are many, many grasshoppers in our woods. Even if it’s not a direct family member, it’s possible that future government policy will address the issue of the Grasshoppers, perhaps to the detriment of the Ants.
Will the government “borrow” food from the ants to save the grasshoppers?
Indeed, the ants. vs. grasshoppers metaphor is very relevant as we’re thinking about our retirements and the reality that many people in our society today will never be able to retire.
Credit to this metaphor and it’s application goes to Elkay and her comment on the Retirement Crisis post. Hers was one of 94 comments on that post (wow, what an exchange, it’s worth reading in its entirety here). I’ve pasted her original comment below, summarized as follows:
- Elkay is an ant. She’s sacrificed and, at age 59, is on course for a great retirement.
- Elkay’s 3 siblings are grasshoppers. They “seem to be in denial” about their situation.
- She’s worried about what to do when the grasshoppers come begging for food.
The Ants vs. Grasshoppers Dilemma
I appreciate Elkay sharing her comment (and giving me permission to use it for today’s post), and suspect the ants vs. grasshopper metaphor applies to most of us. Even if we don’t have “grasshoppers” in our family, we definitely have them in our society.
How should we respond?
The fable of the ants vs. grasshoppers has been around for 2,600 years now, and it’s yet to be solved. We’re certainly not going to solve it today. Interestingly, The Bible makes mention of the ant twice in Proverbs, in verses which give the ants credit for their wisdom (Chapter 6: 6-9 and 30: 24-25). Obviously, there are also many verses in the Bible that cite the importance of charity and generosity. A tough dilemma, this.
Clearly, there’s something deeply challenging about the ants vs. grasshoppers fable. Until I’d read Elkay’s comment, I hadn’t applied it to our retirement reality. Others commented that it was also enlightening for them. I suspect many of you reading this now will also be thinking about this for the first time.
The Point Is This: Recognize that grasshoppers exist. As you’re planning for or living in retirement, take some time to consider the implications for your personal situation. If a family member approaches you, how will you respond? If the government takes action, what will the potential impacts be on your finances and retirement stability?
Conclusion: I Want Your Input
The fable of the ants vs. grasshoppers represents a reality that all of us face. Assuming most of us are Ants, we face the reality that many Grasshoppers will go hungry this winter. A real moral dilemma, with no “right” or “wrong” answers. So…
…How should we respond?
I’ll never solve this one, but I’d like to issue a “Call To Action” today. I’d like a robust discussion in the comments about the topic. Only one rule: BE RESPECTFUL, and avoid overtly political commentary. We’re all adults here, so let’s try to have an adult conversation. (I hope I don’t end up regretting this approach).
Consider the parable of the ants vs. grasshoppers, and drop in with your thoughts and application to your personal situation. I suspect a robust discussion, so I’ll likely not respond to every comment. Rest assured I’ll be reading every one and will be using your feedback for my personal thought process of how to handle the dilemma we all face.
I’ll close with this final comment from Elkay:
- “I will look forward to reading your future post and to see what you and others have to say about the moral and ethical dilemmas our pensionless, high-living generation is facing, both the Ants and the Grasshoppers….maybe there are some boundaries we Ants can establish?”
See you in the comments. Looking forward to this exchange.