Superorganism.

 

We humans have a lot to learn from bees.

A few weeks ago, a friend and partner of the Farm School–and former STUFA–introduced us to some of the beehives that the Farm School maintains. She explained to us the basics of the bee life cycle, how bees make and store honey, and the challenges that beekeepers face in keeping hives alive and healthy.

As it turns out, beekeepers don’t really think about how to care for bees as individual insects. They think about how to maintain communities of bees, because bees are so mutually interdependent that they rely on one another completely for survival.

This is especially true during the winter months.

Many beekeepers do insulate their hives during colder periods. But the majority of the work in heating their home is done by the bees themselves. They form a giant cluster at the center of their hive and essentially shiver together to produce heat. Temperatures in these clusters, which can reach the size of a basketball in larger hives, range between 43° F (at the outside edges of the cluster) to 93° F (at the center of the cluster). Because the bees on the outside of the cluster will die if exposed to colder temperatures for too long, all the bees rotate from the outside of the cluster to the inside so that all the bees have a chance to warm up.

“Bees by themselves are cold-blooded organisms, but during the winter, they come together to form a warm-blooded organism,” our beekeeper said.

One for all, all for one. E pluribus unum, if you will.

I couldn’t help but think of a beautiful metaphor from my own spiritual tradition that expresses the same idea:

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor… All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.

Imagine if human beings were to see one another in this way: as mutually-dependent parts of the same body, the same superorganism. Imagine if we saw one another’s survival, suffering, and joy as part of our collective responsibility.

Imagine if we worked particularly hard during the winters of human history–periods of great need and struggle–to see ourselves as one body of many parts who desperately need one another. To keep one another alive, fed, and warm.

Imagine how we would respond to threats like global climate change, water access, land access, pollution, and all the other issues that affect farmers around the world–and by extension, everyone who eats.

Imagine what the world would be like if we were a little more like the bees.