The Louse of Praise

There is a biting louse named Strigiphilus garylarsoni.

It is found only in owls. And it is not a particularly handsome insect. But biologist Dale Clayton named the six-legged arthropod in tribute to The Far Side creator Gary Larson.

In a letter to the cartoonist, Dr. Clayton proposed the naming to recognize the contribution he believed Mr. Larson’s work had made to biology.

Mr. Larson was delighted.

“I considered this an extreme honor,” he wrote in The Prehistory of the Far Side. “Besides, I knew no one was going to write and ask to name a new species of swan after me. You have to grab these opportunities when they come along.”

I have worked in hopes of swans. When I got lice instead, I have not considered it an extreme honor. I have considered it an extreme letdown.

In those moments, I’m not working for purpose or pleasure. I’m working for praise. I want approval and admiration, affirmation of my worth as a worker and as a person.

But even a flock of swans couldn’t do that. Because worth isn’t quantified by praise. Worth is the unquantifiable quality built into our bones and blood. And the truer we are to what we’ve got in us to be, the less likely we are to forget our innate worth.

So, as poet Robert Browning would say:

“Best be yourself, imperial, plain, and true.”

If we live into that, when our Strigiphilus garylarsoni comes along, it can be an extreme honor.

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