Cockroaches are not my most favourite insects – these ‘bugs’ are considered repugnant by many folk, however, certain species are eaten in some parts of the world. These hardy insects are an ancient group, belonging to the order Blattodea, the Latin meaning ‘insects that shun light’. I say ‘hardy’ as many of them are able to stay alive for a month without food, some are able to survive without air for about 45 minutes and others have flourished in Arctic temperatures. It is popularly suggested that cockroaches “will inherit the earth” if humanity destroys itself in a nuclear war – cockroaches do indeed have a much higher radiation resistance than vertebrates, with the lethal dose up to 15 times that of humans. Although derogatory to call someone a ‘cockroach’, Madonna has been famously quoted as saying: “I am a survivor. I am like a cockroach; you just can’t get rid of me”.

A colleague, Margaret Harvey, tells a story: “Sitting at a restaurant where patrons were having a leisurely lunch, a cockroach suddenly flew in from somewhere and perched on a lady’s blouse. She immediately started screaming and flapping her arms out of fear. With a panic-stricken face and trembling voice, she started jumping, her hands trying to dislodge the pest. Her reaction became contagious, as all in her group joined in, creating pandemonium in the facility. She finally managed to flick the insect off her clothes, but it unfortunately landed on another lady in her group. The drama ensued as the next victim went into panic mode. A nearby waiter rushed forward to their rescue, only to have the cockroach land on his shirt. The waiter stood firm and, after observing the behaviour of the cockroach for a few seconds, firmly grabbed the cockroach and threw it out of the restaurant”. Sipping her coffee and watching the amusement, Margaret wondered if the cockroach was responsible for the histrionics. If so, then why was the waiter not disturbed? She realised that it was not the cockroach, but the inability of the ladies to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach that caused pandemonium. Personalising this, Margaret realised that it was not the shouting of a father, boss or husband that disturbs her, but her inability to handle the disturbance that upsets her. It is not the traffic jam in rush-hour that disturbs her, but her inability to exercise patience that frustrates her. More than the problem, it’s her reaction to the problem that causes chaos in her life. She realised that there is a difference between reacting and responding to an issue – the ladies reacted to the cockroach, the waiter responded to the menace. Reacting seems to be instinctive and immediate, whereas responding seems to require thought and reflection. Margaret concluded by saying: “This is a beautiful way to understand life – a person who is happy is not so because everything is right in her life. She is happy because her attitude towards everything in her life is right”.

I still don’t like cockroaches – they are not beautiful like butterflies and, besides, they are ‘dirty’ scavengers!  My response to all the ‘cockroaches’ that life serves humanity seems to be critically important, however, especially if I am going to live purposefully and contribute meaningfully. It’s easy to react, be negative and blame – it’s quite another thing to take responsibility, however, and be a solution-finder, influencer and contributor.

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