For the past few months honey bees have recaptured my attention. I cared for a beehive for several years when I lived in Arkansas but have only recently found a place for them in the urban life of Nashville. That place is on the green roof of the Wedgewood Academic Center. Last May, just as the semester was ending, I captured a swarm of bees right in front of Kennedy Hall and placed them in a hive on WAC. I estimate that there were between 7,000 and 10,000 bees in the swarm. That’s about as many bees as we have people on campus when we combine students, faculty, staff, and Vandy guys hoping to find a date. The bee population on the roof has now grown to two hives with a total of about 100,000 residents.
Caring for the bees caused me to begin thinking about what we might learn from a community of bees. Bees are really amazing critters. Think of all of their positive attributes. We’ve all heard about how hard they work, always being as “busy as bees.” And if you observe them closely, you’ll see what a great community they create. They are intensely “mission focused”, constantly seeking to be productive, and all for the common good. Within the hive of 50,000 each bee possesses “individual competence” that enables it to play a clear role to either work outside the hive to collect pollen and nectar or to work protecting the hive, building cells, caring for the queen, or in the case of the poor queen, laying up to 2,000 eggs in one day!
Bees are incredible “communicators”—they talk to each other through amazing dances that communicate information that is vital to their success. When we consider how “cooperative” they are with one another and how their fates are all linked together, it becomes clear that they are truly seeking to build a community that represents a “win-win” for all involved. This all works so well that the hive community achieves a status of over-production so that it is in a position to give a sweet gift back to the external community (that’s the honey that they share with us)!
While we don’t fully understand how bees create such a complicated success story, it seems to me that it involves utilizing the same characteristics that we see in great human communities like Belmont: a common mission, individual competence, diligent work, clearly understood and accepted roles, cooperative attitudes, open communications, and win-win outcomes. Think it over, can we actually achieve the sweet success of community together this year?
“We’re one, but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other, carry each other…”
– “One” U2