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April 24th, 2009
08:39 AM ET

Dear President Obama #95: We've got Ants!

Reporter's Note: Our President is trying to raise a puppy, tend to two children, and restore the economy. No wonder he is asking Americans to pitch in with some ideas on how to get all that done. So I’m writing a letter a day to Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I was fixing a landscape light in our yard, and as I removed the top a swarm of little black ants came pouring out. My younger daughter squealed and ran, that scared the dog which took off with her, and I was left thinking about a story.

Some years back I enjoyed a conversation with the esteemed scientist, E.O. Wilson. He made his chops studying ants. As a kid he suffered an eye injury and he can’t see all that well, so he focused on a tiny world that he could keep in focus. Anyway, he developed extraordinary theories about how species may be genetically programmed so that some individuals will sacrifice themselves for the good of the collective community. (Obviously he’s never been to cheerleader tryouts, but still..) I don’t know how much I believe him, but I know if you step barefoot into a fire ant bed down south you’ll learn something about the power of teamwork pretty fast.

He gave me one of his signed books, and drew some little ants inside the cover. Ever since I’ve wondered why some individuals are more inclined to think of their society, while others are more inclined to think about themselves. (Not insignificant matters to ponder, I suspect, with all this turmoil over Wall Street, and CEO bonuses.)

I can’t say it’s a matter of intelligence. I’ve known some awfully smart people who are plenty selfish. It’s not education, religion, wealth, or where you are from either. I’ve known plenty of degree-holding-Bible-thumping-rich-folks-from-the-right-side-of-the-tracks who also more self-serving than a three-year-old with an ice cream cone.

So why is it that some people think more of the team and less of themselves? Frankly I don’t have a clue. What I do know is this: If you can surround yourself with folks who are more interested in doing the work than taking the credit; and more interested in the team’s success than their own, you’ll really have something.

Ha! Listen to me rattling: You’ve got the Taliban marching in Afghanistan, torture investigations at home, who knows what Biden is up to and here I am talking about ants!

I’ll let you get back to your work. Hope all is well, and as always, call if you get a moment.

Regards,

Tom

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. lynnMarieKnurek

    I didnt vote for Obama but I liked him-once he won like every good american I backed the president.
    BUT his wanting to show the world our military torture films ect...is he out of his mind??How many soldiers will pay for them?
    MR OBAMA MAYBE WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN PUTTING OUR CAPTIVES ON FILM HAVING THEIR HEADS SAWED OFF-LIKE THEY DID TO US????
    Make it a pay preview event-many would pay and we could boost the economy.
    It seems seriously that this president is "out to get" the Bush administration...why? who has time? it's over! YOU WON OBAMA now do something!

    April 25, 2009 at 1:03 am |
  2. Tishter, NJ

    I would love to see a mandatory 2 years of service to this country after high school, in some dimension...military, Red Cross, Veteran's hospital, park service.... I think we need to do something to instill a sense of community in our young adults. We are too inside ourselves– doing what's good/best for ourselves and our families only. We need a way to shift societal thinking so there's an obligation to consider the good of the community and be a more active part of the community. (Note, this is a far different concept from "spreading the wealth.")

    April 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm |
  3. Anne of the World

    We survived as a species because we cooperate...in spite of our selfishness.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  4. Sugarsplace

    First, humans are not ants. Ants are an entirely different animal.
    Humans do master teamwork wonderfully and we see it all the time.
    We take individual pride in doing our best towards a common goal which is teamwork. When we are comfortable in our own skin...when we take care of ourselves so we can then take care of others... it all works beautifully.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:36 am |
  5. MarieAnne Sam - Alabang, Philippines

    Pretty small lesson we got from 'ants'. Teamwork! Different minds focus on one goal! Quite a tall order! We do have individual goals but accomplishing them collectively with the team reaps more happiness than having it done alone!

    April 24, 2009 at 10:22 am |
  6. Beryl

    Many of us are "we people" but only now we are being heard and respected. Enjoy and extend the moment.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:00 am |
  7. Alyzabeth

    Lavan, that is a good question. Why do some area's in the world, such as your own, go so unnoticed in their struggles?

    April 24, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  8. Carla

    Too many people think if they aren't self serving they will be left out. when in actuality it's giving up of the self that leads to true happiness. When we take I out of the equation and turn it into we, much more gets accomplished and there are many more happy, successful, well-adjusted people. But no one wants to be the one to start it. In my small part of the world I am a we person.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:35 am |
  9. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    People, by right, are basically selfish--it is just the nature of the beast. Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without himself. And you are right-although individuals play the game, it is the "team" that wins championships.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  10. Terry, TX

    If he had a team....that were noble and of good character...I am afraid and sad to say...that's not what he hired.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:20 am |
  11. JJ

    ...so true....

    April 24, 2009 at 9:04 am |
  12. Lavan

    its really funny guys , ur caring abt puppy and talk abt ants ,
    but we tamils are crying to save our tamil ppl in srilankan, from singhala army .
    these ppl know this and i dont know why president obama is silent ,
    even hillary said tamil tigers are freedom fighters.
    then why are you waiting so long you want to see all tamils die ,

    April 24, 2009 at 9:02 am |
  13. Huriya

    Such a clever post. I agree whole heartily.
    This one and only reason good leaders fail us because of the people who surround them have their own under lying agenda.
    Good work!

    April 24, 2009 at 9:01 am |