Learning Leadership from Our Flying Friends


Photo by: Justin Schmidt

By Justin Schmidt

Photo by: Justin Schmidt
Photo by: Justin Schmidt

Eleven months ago on a whim, I decided to order a package of bees. I bought a copy of “Beekeeping for Dummies” and, without any prior knowledge, began to build my first hive. This endeavor has taught me, believe it or not, about our own society.

It became clear to me pretty early on that I had no clue what I was doing. Admittedly, I’m still not sure what I’m doing, but after a year of having stinging, swarming, busy bees next to my house, I’ve learned a lot about who is actually in charge. To the surprise of many people, it isn’t the beekeeper, nor the queen.

There is a popular misconception that queens are in charge of the hive.This is false. Despite the name “queen bee,” she is more of a captive than a leader. Worker bees (all female) forcefully protect her while she lays eggs, surrounding her constantly and limiting her mobility.

The queen is forced to propagate with the males of the hive, or drones. The males are lazy, submissive, and once again, not in control. They are sex slaves; when their services are not needed, they are escorted to the door and promptly banished.

It became clear to me this year that the leadership of the hive comes directly from the worker bees.

Every worker bee looks the same, thinks the same and is essentially equal. Although the animated DreamWorks film “Bee Movie” makes worker bees seem relaxed and humorous, don’t be fooled. Worker bees have raw ambition and do everything in their power to help the hive. The natural way for a worker bee to die is for her to work herself to death. Just as the middle class drives the economy in human society, the beehive also needs a strong workforce to help it survive. Worker bees are anonymous, and each worker bee has little power, yet together they can do a lot.

Much like what the Internet is doing for human society, any bee in a hive can communicate instantaneously with the rest using pheromones and an intricate sign language; just like us, bees communicate. But their similarities with people don’t end there. Bees are nationalistic by nature and will do anything to ensure the survival of their colony. As a senior, I have taken classes in government, world history and U.S. history. So, by using that scope of reasoning, I must ask, “What types of government do bees have?”

We are observing a governance system that has communist traits, but lacks central leadership. It is a Darwinian society that values hard work, determination and cooperation. It’s either the purest form of communism, or a free market system taken to its maximum potential.

Either way, when you consider the overwhelming responsibilities bees take on, it becomes obvious how imperative their presence becomes. They pollinate billions of flowers, fruit trees, crops, shrubs and plants worldwide each year.

For the past 50 years, while bees have been doing what they do best, sustaining life, humans have inadvertently been doing everything to endanger the bee populations and undermine their abilities to pollinate the planet.

A recent study shows that bee populations are approximately at half of the number they were in the 1950s. Neither scientists nor beekeepers have come up with a definite reason. We do know that our industrial systems of agriculture are destructive and difficult for bees to adapt to. Monoculture, the act of planting single crops in massive plots, puts stress on honey bees. Excessive chemical fertilizer usage also harms the bees.

Urban beekeeping has subsequently gotten very popular because bees can sustain themselves, but we need bees much more in places where we grow a lot of food. Bees are known to do better near organic farms where they can get a more varied diet with minimal pesticides. Many beekeepers already try to keep their hives away from any plots using pesticides.

The nice thing is that you don’t have to be a beekeeper to help out: supporting organic agriculture projects buying organic is a good way to do your part. We must do what we can to help our winged companions; we can learn from the bee, and cannot afford to lose the opportunity.