Good and Bad Actors

A study out of Stanford University some 20 years ago examined why some doctors are sued more than others. We, the patient, cannot assess accurately their medical expertise.  We look at the certificates on the wall, during the procedure we are often anesthetized, and on recovery, look to see how straight is the line of stitches.  No, we evaluate doctors on their bedside manner. Doctors with good communication skills are sued less often than those without.  


In December of 2013 the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) ( argued that in an era when smart phones can take videos so easily, farmers need to run their operations as if someone is recording their activities.   What, they asked, separates what they called ‘good actor’ v ‘bad actor’ farmers and how does this relate to the level of trust that consumers have in their products?


For the sake of this newsletter I am going to substitute beekeeper for farmer.  As a beekeeper’s operation grows in size it starts to look to the consumer as ‘institutional’, and the more institutional it looks, the less the consumer believes they can trust the beekeeper. The larger the operation the more likely it is perceived as  putting profit above public interest. 


The values held by the beekeeper are more important to the public than his or her technical competence.  We tend to speak to the public and answer questions in scientific and technological terms but consumers are primarily concerned with  the availability, affordability and safety of healthy foods, in this case honey or the crops that honey bees pollinate. 


And to address those values the beekeeper needs to have earned public trust  and be transparent.  Easier said than done, right?   So the CFI polled 6000 people and discovered that ‘bad actors’ discounted public concerns, passed on the blame and were not consistent in their informational data.  ‘Good actors,’ by comparison, focused on addressing perceived problems, did not hesitate to bring in other expertise and focused on larger issues like health and well being. Good actors, in other words, listened hard and addressed real concerns.   


Good actors, or in our case good beekeepers, keep good records (which can be a valid source of their methodology if support is needed,) participate in honey bee related programs, have a good relationship with local expertise and accept responsibility when things don’t work out as we would like.   


A report in Lancaster Farming, Dec 7, 2013, which is where I first read of this report, ends thus :  “(Beekeepers) need to demonstrate and communicate an understanding of the ethical obligation to provide for the well being of (honey bees.)  And they need to communicate that their commitment to doing what is right goes beyond their economic interests.”


Clearly none of the above is limited to farming and beekeeping. The late Stephen Covey, whose book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” has been instrumental in my life, describes the difference between personality and character.   While reviewing 200 years of literature on the subject of success, Covey noticed that since the 1920’s the focus was on short term solutions which can be attributed to personality techniques, such as maintaining a positive attitude. Prior to 1920 the literature was more character oriented.  It emphasized the deeper, primary principles of success, such as integrity, courage, justice and patience. 


To illustrate the difference he asks that you imagine being in, say Pittsburgh, and using a map to find a particular destination.  You may have excellent map reading skills but they will be to no avail if your map is of Philadelphia.  In other words you must have the right map (character, or primary skills) before the secondary skills (personality) can be effective.


As I write these words the world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, a man who personified a depth of character for which he initially suffered, and eventually triumphed, mightily.  As President Obama said at his memorial service, he represented ‘principles than need to be chiseled into law.”  Mandela personified the difference between a statesman and a politician; we have too many of the latter and too few of the former. 


Honey bees, as far as we are aware, do not have individual personalities, although a colony may do - aggression, for example.  But bees do have a definitive character - a good work ethic, commitment to the well being of the community, patience and courage, to name a few.   And an experienced beekeeper can learn much by simply listening to a colony - they communicate clearly and unambiguously.  One evening in Alsace a beekeeper was opening some hives for my benefit one evening and after the third one he said it was time to close them up.  “How do you know?” I asked.  In response he held his hand to his ear. 


Erik Delfortrie of Alsace is a good beekeeper and, like his bees,  a good actor.  He is also a man of character and one could sense it immediately on meeting him.  Ultimately a contrived personality cannot hide character defaults.  Thus we cherish the basic character traits of  honey bees - their industry and work ethic, commitment to the greater society, patience, and relationship with the natural world, for instance - and accept the differences of personality that each colony displays. 


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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my