Watching bees in an observation hive I was amazed yet again by their combination of even-temperedness and sense of purpose despite the constant pressure of their peers. All day and night there are bees going over bees, or under, around
and on top of other bees. And yet one never sees signs of frustration (what would ‘road rage’ in a bee look like?) Rather the colony seems to find comfort, support and reassurance in the constant presence of others of their kind.
The closest I have come to experiencing this kind of pressure was at Apimondia in September of 2009 as we pushed and struggled and grappled and wriggled in columns of six deep trying to get to see the hundreds of vendors in the short
intervals between presentations. If this was ‘bee space’ it was much too narrow for my liking.
Much has been written about bees as a superorganism, not least by Jurgen Tautz, and many of William Longgood’s
essays in The Queen Must Die stress how each bee exists only for the good and survival of the larger community.
We used to be like that. There was a time when we got to know people because
we had both to ask for, and to offer, help. In the absence of a health system, unemployment insurance and public housing, charity was an integral part of life and indeed was central to all of the world’s major religions. And yet today how many
of us, when approached by the sick, the frail, the homeless or the confused, choose to look the other way, or cross the street, or say “He will only spend it on drugs,” or blame the individual for his or her predicament. “If only they
would work harder …”
We are still warm hearted, well meaning and generous but to preserve a sense of balance we either turn our metaphorical backs on, or put fences between, the millions of human beings who are
all around us all of the time. The public spaces in which we are forced to rub shoulders with our many neighbors - busses, escalators, pavements, shopping malls, restaurants – throw us into the mix in a way that denies our individuality and
compels us into a silent womb
If you want to start a riot try starting a conversation with a stranger in an elevator.
Honey bees go into a cell occasionally for a little privacy, a little
sleep, whereas we retreat increasingly into our private cocoons to retain our dignity and our sanity. And technology has provided us with plenty of recesses in which to hide – our cars, our computers, buying with a credit card over the internet,
Facebook, detached houses with fences … . And, as a general rule, the wealthier we are the more easy it is to be isolated, with bigger houses and taller fences.
Sealed away it is easy to forget or deny
the inherent worth and dignity of every individual in the face of a media that emphasizes the murderers and swindlers and unethical politicians and vain celebrities and pedophiles.
Honey bees have been living a virtually
unchanged life for millions of years, a life style that is now being threatened by the technology we espouse so loudly. A pertinent example is the possible ban of honey bees from Australia because of the mites and diseases that come with them on the
Boeing 707. Do I want to live like a bee? Could I survive in the organized chaos of a bee hive? Absolutely not. But I do want to keep the ‘virtues ‘ of technology in perspective. (It’s a poignant reminder that the technology
available to the world’s greatest teachers, including the Buddha, Socrates, Jesus Christ, Mohammed and Mahatma Gandhi, was little more than a finger in the sand and a spinning wheel.)
A popular analogy argues that
people can be viewed either as butterflies, who are beautiful and sit in the sun with their wings spread as others gather around them, or like bees, out in the garden cross-pollinating. I know that I need meaningful interactions face-to-face, emotion-to-emotion,
with other people, those foragers who are out collecting nectar and pollen and then coming back to tell us where the good stuff is. And I need to do my bit to feel that, drone or not, I am offering something for the well-being of our common