Useful, industrious, productive, communicative, collaborative, defensive, but most of all social. There were many words that hovered in my head, bee-like, after the research for last week’s post on the role of bees in fertilisation. In the comments that readers kindly offered, one struck a particular chord for me. Stephanae McCoy, suggested that we as a society, could learn much from the bees about how to work together and get along. I thought about how like a garden a society is in terms of needs. All elements depend on each other for survival and success.
Each contributes to how well the garden blooms
I remembered being taught in primary school about the bee hive as a metaphor for society, with each bee having a role that contributed to the survival and success of the hive. I decided to revisit this notion with an adult perspective. Here is some of what I discovered
Of the 15000 species of Australian Native bee only 11 are social. Like the European honey bee and bumble bee, they live in complex societies and are described as eusocial.
Bee Spotter explains eusociality as “an extreme form of social behaviour found in just a few types of animals and is characterised by:
1. The presence of several generations in a single nest at the same time
2.Cooperation by some members of the society in caring for offspring that are not their own
3.Division of labour with queens that reproduce a lot and workers that reproduce very little if at all.”
Mmm, does that remind you of something? Certainly in the past it was common for several generations of families to live in the one residence.
My great-grandma and her daughter, my nana, both lived with us at different stages of my life. They soothed the sting of parental scoldings with cuddles and barley sugar, taught me to sew and play cards and were always there for me no matter what. It was a rich and nurturing preparation for becoming a member of a multi generational society. Respect for the elderly, their seemingly endless wisdom and patience, grew from that contact.
In some societies, like those Asian societies where Confucianism prevails as part of the cultural ethos, the older generation still live in extended families as valued members. In the West, grand parents usually live apart from their family. I smile when I read of the great mutual benefits arising from the ‘innovative’ social measures being taken to improve the mental health and isolation of the elderly and the socialisation of the very young by situating child care centres within retirement homes. Everything old is new again it would seem.
Remember the notion that it takes a village to raise a child? Nowadays with the advent of child care, others beyond family often fulfil this role. Funny isn’t it? It seems we delegate responsibility for the care of both extremes of the human life span to paid workers – the very young and the very old. Is this a bad thing, or just different? A measure driven by economic structural change?
On the division of labour, the third point made above seems to overlook the organic nature of the hive. The queen bee does indeed lay all the eggs. Her role is crucial to long term hive existence. But without the sterile workers and drones, the hive would not survive at all. They build the cells to house the next generation, gather the pollen and nectar to feed them with honey they make, and tend them until they’re ready to make their own contribution to the greater benefit of the hive.
Thinking of this, I realise the value of specialised roles in society, no matter the status assigned to them. Age carer, waste collector, teacher, communicator; like bees we are all essential parts of a whole which is greater than just the sum of us.
If we are to bloom as a society, we must acknowledge the value of each member.
- The Confucian Filial Obligation and Care for Aged Parents https://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Comp/CompWang.htm