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  • Writer's pictureDave Caperton

Be a Lightning Bug: A lesson for leading and influencing others

Lightning bugs show up bright in the darkness

Isn’t summer great? It’s the time for vacations, cook-outs, and baseball games. It’s also a time for humidity, road construction and bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Flies that zip from the garbage can to the doggie doo the neighbor left on the sidewalk right to your Cole slaw. Mosquitos that whine in your ear and see your exposed leg as an all-you-can-eat buffet. And wasps and yellow jackets that fear nothing from you and, even when you muster the courage to shoo them away from their menacing buzzing around your head, seem to be mentally writing your name down on a list. I had an unfortunate run-in with a swarm of yellow jackets while doing some yardwork the other day. In a split-second I went from methodically weed-whacking a fence line to doing a lurching cross between a Tik-Tok dance and a striptease (my apologies to my neighbors. I realize that there are some things you just can’t unsee).

Later that night, after I had attended to my various welts, we sat out on the patio and, as dusk descended, the yard was suddenly alight with the comforting twinkle of lightning bugs. I love lightning bugs, don’t you? They are part of the magic of summer and a reminder of the wonder of childhood. Still tingling from my various stings, though, I considered something I hadn’t before about these amazing little creatures.

Every member of the insect world has its own defenses against us. Some, like flies, are really fast, making them hard to swat before they get away. Some, as I was reminded that day, are aggressive and can deliver painful bites or venomous stings. And some are so well camouflaged that they are almost invisible to us against their surroundings. The lightning bug has none of those things. They are so slow that a four-year-old can fill a jar with them in ten minutes on a summer night. They don’t sting or bite. And as for camouflage, they have none. In fact, just the opposite, their butts light up in the dark!

And yet these little members of the beetle family have little to fear from most of us because almost everyone feels warmly toward them. When it comes to most bugs, I don’t suffer much guilt when I get out the swatter. If they’re in my house, it’s on. I’m like Atilla the housefly Hun. But if I discover a lightning bug inside, I’ll cup my hands and take it to a window or door, “Be free little friend!”

Nature has a lot of models to teach us principles about working, leading and influencing others. We admire the ant’s work ethic, the team spirit and productivity of honeybees, and the patient transformation of butterflies. But when it comes to how we connect and even lead others, we’d do well to consider the lightning bug. That little greenish-yellow light flashing on and off on summer nights isn’t especially bright. In fact, it would be invisible in the daylight. But in the dark, you can see it a long way off and it makes us feel good.

Although we don’t have that literal ability (except of course when you stick your cell phone in your back pocket with the flashlight on) figuratively, it’s possible. That little light for us can be a warm smile, an expression of recognition and gratitude, a shared laugh or a simple gesture of kindness or encouragement or compassion. Most of the time, it won’t even be noticeable to others walking around in their relative daylight. But even the smallest light shines brightly at night and if yours shows up in someone else’s darkest hour, they’ll notice and it could make all the difference.

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