Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Bees Are Making Me Rethink Community

beekeeping and community

Bees are perhaps the most organized and productive society on the planet. This is possible because the bees care about the colony. They do things for the group and have a highly developed sense of community. They don't care who gets the credit for the work they do and they do wacky things like making sure all the work gets done and everyone gets taken care of. Pretty radical.

I have been a lifelong worshipper at the altar of the individual. I mean, I live in the US so it's kind of in our DNA. Everything is about me and my rights, right? God bless America and Ayn Rand.  I remember how I felt when Hillary Clinton said "it takes a village." I arrogantly spouted that is only took me and sometimes my husband, when he wasn't at work, to raise happy and well adjusted children who would become productive members of society. And hilarious adults. Because frankly if you brought up kids with a lousy sense of humor I am going to judge you.

But on this side of parenting--the done side--I have a confession to make. That village that I claimed didn't exist was crucial. Because while I was claiming all the credit for having the most amazing children (or pretending not to know them depending on the day) lots of people were helping. Grandparents were giving me a break, Sunday school teachers were reinforcing not clobbering and biting, my friends were mindful and caring. Elderly neighbors shared wisdom learned over long lives. Whoever produces COPS was teaching them what NOT to do unless you want to end up on national TV in your underwear.

As Americans we are terrified that saying that the group matters or that community is important is the pathway to group think and disregarding the needs and desires of the individual. Trust me as a creative person and parent of a couple of free thinkers, you would never catch me saying that. The key is finding the balance in the individual vs. society struggle. 

When I go to schools now to teach about bees one of the important lessons I try to get across to kids is that our actions don't just affect us. Our good actions as well as our bad ones end up affecting everyone. I often ask what their classroom, or home, or neighborhood would look like if everyone did what needed to be done without being asked (or told).

Their eyes light up but then they wiggle uncomfortably. So do I. As an adult this makes it hard for me to walk past trash at the park without picking it up. By the way bees do not tolerate any foreign substance in the hive and are meticulously clean. Just ask the guy who tried to hide 18K in cash from his wife during an ugly divorce. (The bees chewed it up and pushed it out of the hive) Now that is hilarious.

The bees (and the Gospel) make it hard for me to ignore the homeless guy on the corner, which I am desperately trying to do when he is looking at me and I am pretending that whatever is happening to my radio right now is the most important thing ever. Or that the cure for cancer is in my purse if I could only find it --I will admit that I am far from where I want to be. Even at this late date (50 years old) I still have a lot of work to do.

So while the bees also do some things we frown upon in society nowadays-- they will kill a queen if they sense she is weak and raise up a new one. They also throw all the males out in the fall because they just use up resources and are only good for mating. We probably shouldn't do that. But they have a few things to teach us about things like cooperation and hard work.  Lessons we all need.

This beekeeper needs them every day and often more than that.

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