Tolerating Spiders and People
Spiders. Yuck. Most people hate them. We hate them because we have been taught to fear them. Spiders bite people and then the bitten person dies, or gets very sick, right? We don’t stop to examine our prejudice against spiders because it is accepted that spiders are bad. Spiders are scary. We hate spiders just because they are spiders.
I see so many parallels in our view of spiders and our view of people. We have been taught to fear certain groups of people because we perceive them as a threat to our safety, our lifestyle and our place in society. We label people as bad and we hold them in contempt just because they are who they are. It’s just accepted that we have a right to hate them.
When I embraced Buddhism as my spiritual path, I became much more aware of the interconnection of all beings. For me, this awareness especially extended to things that I normally did not think much about, like insects. Buddhism teaches that we must care for all sentient beings — beings that are alive and can feel things.
Before, I never gave it much thought when I squashed a spider under my shoe. Then I started thinking about the fact that it is a living being who can feel. Suddenly, I found myself thinking twice about my practice of automatically squashing anything that crawled. As I became more aware of the life in even the smallest insect, I began to have a hard time being so cavalier about killing them.
I have gained a reputation in my workplace as the “bug advocate” and any time there is a bug in the building I am called on to dispatch it. I have scooped up many spiders and other crawling things and placed them outdoors without harming them. Most of my coworkers think I am crazy. They all share the common aversion to anything that crawls and their first reaction is to kill it.
It seems I am beginning to see a slight change in their attitude, though. Last summer, a large yellow and black garden spider built her intricate, beautiful web across the corner of one of the doors. When a coworker came and found me to remove the spider, I explained to her that this spider was harmless and would eat a lot of insects before creating her egg sac and then dying when the weather turned cold.
She reluctantly admitted that it was a gorgeous spider (“for a spider” she said) and then checked on her from time to time. The garden spider was allowed to stay in place and created her egg sac and my coworker was able to see spiders in a different light.
I don’t judge people who hate insects (or snakes, or bats, or coyotes, or any number of creatures that people commonly hate.) We have been conditioned almost from birth to feel this way, being taught to fear the way the adults in our lives feared.
It is a difficult thing to change our minds, but it is a valuable exercise in tolerance of all beings to examine our beliefs for their veracity. Maybe what we have always believed about spiders (and people) is not the whole truth.
When people ask me why I don’t kill spiders, my response is, it is an act of inclusivity. By allowing creepy, crawly things to co-habit this world with me, I am training myself to see I am not separate. My view of the world becomes expansive and I become less protectionist. I am more willing to tolerate others because I can see that every being has its place in the world. It is a spiritual practice in developing compassion.
When I can see something like a big, scary spider as an important part of the whole, it enables me to begin to see all people as a part of the whole. As I begin to get curious about the insects that crawl around in my house or in my yard, I am training myself to let go my prejudice and be curious about people I may have judged from my place of ignorance.
If I drop my fear or aversion, I stop feeding the mindset that says, “I have a right to be here and you don’t.” If I can learn to have compassion for insects or other creatures I may not like, it is easy to translate this mindset to my neighbors who play their music too loud or strangers who practice a religion I don’t agree with.
I hope we can begin to be curious about others and learn to appreciate our differences. May we drop our prejudices and judgement about each other and see that maybe we’ve been wrong. I know we are mostly wrong about spiders, so it’s not a stretch to think we are mostly wrong about each other, as well. The next time you see a spider, I hope you will think twice before you step on it. And I hope it opens your heart towards compassion for all of us who share this planet.
Here are a few facts about spiders that you may not know:
Less than 10 people in the US die of spider bites each year. So your chances of dying from a spider bite are almost zero.
Spiders feed on common indoor pests, such as roaches, earwigs, mosquitoes, flies and clothes moths. If left alone, spiders will consume most of the insects in your home, providing effective home pest control.