When we find ourselves in times of trouble, Mother Nature comes to us, speaks words of wisdom, and says, “Let it be.” This we know. The Beatles told us, 50 years ago. However, as John, Paul, George, and Ringo were hotter on songs than on spelling, I know they wouldn’t mind if I say that you are herewith instructed not to let it be but to let it bee. Why? Because, in our hour of darkness, we can look to the humble honeybee for guidance on how to handle ourselves.
Let me count the ways in which bees can help us through this terrible time, starting at the shallow end: their excellent sense of fashion. Yellow and black stripes with fur against a floral background as they zoom around while we stay inside on Zoom—very on trend and a reminder of what freedom feels like. To get deep, we depend on them, literally. Last year, at a ceremony with real people hanging out closely together like bees in a swarm, the Earthwatch Institute declared them the most important species on the planet. It’s the flowers. Pretty much everything comes down to pollination. The biologist Thor Hanson even took apart a Big Mac and found that, with the exception of the beef and the bun, more or less everything else came from the bees.
The Earthwatch Institute declared them the most important species on the planet.
Then let’s look at the way bees organize themselves as a society. Remember that famous George Cruikshank drawing, The British Bee Hive, from 1840, depicting the class system with the royal family at the top (naturally!) and laborers like a “sweep” and a “dustman” at the bottom? A marvelous edition from 1867 lives in the British Library, in London, now. Bees know a thing or two about class and struggle. Just read Laline Paull’s novel The Bees, which is like The Handmaid’s Tale with honey. Bees are even “eusocial,” which, thankfully, has nothing whatsoever to do with the E.U. but everything to do with how they connect and hang out with each other.
Finally, there’s just how they live and work in the same space. Thanks to the smartphone and now the coronavirus, so do we. It would be better if we urban dwellers could build our living spaces using bee hives as a template, with hexagon shapes as a way of saving space—so even the smallest Manhattan apartment can be productive and you can find a quiet corner to reproduce in if you so wish. (Sex is rather important to bees.) In short, the bee is a super-organism, and in this time of trouble it can teach us how to be as super as possible. Here are six tips (one for each leg).
Be More Queen
Long live the queen! True statesmanship doesn’t come much finer than the two absolutely sensational speeches that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gave her subjects around the world this spring. In bee science, the queen is literally a cut above the other castes. If you want leadership style, don’t look any further.
Don’t Drone On
I watched American Gigolo again in lockdown last week and was reminded by beautiful sex worker Richard Gere that, in feminist bee land, the man is really there just to mate. Not the brightest bee in the box, he must avoid—note to the macho drone Donald Trump, who fancies himself rotten—droning on. Look manful! Say little!
Show Us the Honey
Winnie the Pooh, not the smartest bear in the box, had a thing about honey, you will recall. His love of the stuff made us laugh. God knows, we need to laugh right now. Read some A. A. Milne, look at anything funny you can lay your mitts on. Oh, and manuka honey is full of antioxidants.
Go Forth and Forage
While we can’t take flight like our bee soulmates, and we sustain our stomachs with takeout or by taking sourdough selfies, we can swoop high over all the luscious arts-and-culture plants of the Internet world and drink in the nectar of ideas from the safety of the sofa. It’s rather an abundant time in this respect.
A magical substance called melittin is contained in the venom of a bee sting, which has been shown to combat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and is capable of killing H.I.V. viruses. On the whole, bees are actually pretty kind and avoid stinging. When confined with idiots in small spaces, they learn to hold their temper. A lesson for us all.
Do the Waggle Run
Finally, bees are great dancers. They get their groove on by doing the waggle run, a dance that communicates a kind of bee satnav using the direction of the sun to show where to forage. Wing vibrations, acoustic signals—all communicate where the action is. How clever is that? I hope you are shaking your ass, booming that Zoom, and getting a Tik in your Tok.
Julia Hobsbawm is the author of The Simplicity Principle: Six Steps Toward Clarity in a Complex World and the presenter of the podcast series The Simplicity Principle