The Social Garden



Honey bees in the hive –

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.


Four generations of my family

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. 


Florence Matilda – my great grandmother


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26 responses to “The Social Garden

  1. I remember with great affection my great granda Pears who we lived with in a 2 roomed apartment until I was about 3 yrs old. Even when our family had its own house, I still visited or he came to take me out. He did so enrich my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read about these Gail. They are the drones responsible for fertilising the queen. They also help with maintaining the temperature in the hive. Again, like human society, each bee has a role which contributes to the successful functioning of the hive. But it appears they throw the males out first when things get stressed. 😮

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting piece Robyn! When I joined a few years ago I could see clearly from census records how many people lived in households and part of me wishes I could have experienced this lifestyle. When there are multiple generations under one roof I would think there would be a deeper appreciation and respect for one another.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so happy I did not miss this post. The thoughtfulness within the text is inspiring. Ah, but those photos have sent their own marvelous message. A family together and proud to be part of each other’s lives. This may be my favorite post and I’ve loved them all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Clare, that’s lovely feedback. Thank you! I like the idea of them living on in their impress on me, their ideals, ways of doing things and funny sayings. A kind of generational continuity. I try to talk about them to my grandchildren so they have the benefit of knowing they have ‘roots’. They call them their ‘grandcestors.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robyn, you should think about making a recording of some of your best memories with them and sharing it with your grandchildren. So many times I wish I had a recording of my dad telling us about his life. It would make a wonderful gift for them someday and your writing is beautiful.I can see a little booklet with pictures of the flowers they loved so much that bring back those memories. “Memories of Grandcestors”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a great idea Clare. One I wish I’d implemented with my own parents and grandparents. After they had passed when I was doing my doctorate, I recorded 300 hours of personal narratives of other peoples grandparents. I realised then the value of this record.

        The booklet idea is very special. These days its quite easy to print a single quality book at reasonable cost as well. I love your title!
        For years I’ve kept a journal recording my thoughts. It was prompted because I want my daughters to know me not just as a parent but as a person in a way I never knew my own mother and father.

        Liked by 1 person

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