When people ask me what my goals or dreams are the truest and most heart-felt response I give is “I want to change the world.” It is something that I feel so deeply it makes me ache to think that I may live and die without having made this place better somehow. Even as I sit here writing, I find myself hoping that maybe, somehow, these words will mean something to someone. Perhaps my desire to change the world is one of the reasons that I have always been attracted to the concept of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. When I feel small it reminds me that there is unique power derived from cooperation with others that exceeds the combined efforts of all the individuals.
When I think of the people who have made the world different—better—for me, well-known and little-known names are woven together in a tapestry. Among those known by only a few is my paternal grandmother, Susan. She had an immense love for nature and taught me to feel the earth beneath my feet and see how beautiful a tree is when it is bare because all the tiny branches that the leaves usually hide become visible. I remember visiting her and popping popcorn to eat while we watched the sunset. She mentored me in being a participant in the natural world; and I learned to recognize myself in the symbiosis between humanity and mother earth.
The human-earth relationship reminds me of the female worker bees in a beehive, which are responsible for foraging outside of the hive. During this process the worker bee not only collects food for her bee community, she also pollinates flowers, which supports the health and growth of the greater ecosystem. The earth provides for her and she provides for the earth.
Bees function within a sophisticated social structure in which each individual carries out certain responsibilities for the good of the hive. The Hebrew word for bee is Deborah (דבורה) which happens to be my mother’s name. Hers is another name in my tapestry. Like her namesake, my mother has often sacrificed for the welfare of the hive, our home. In a human context, the strengthening of the family unit is enhanced as each individual develops skills, attributes, and talents that are unique and then reinvests them into the community. In this way our power for good bonds our families and radiates outward into the community.
Unlike the bee, however, humans are not necessarily inclined toward cooperation. This is illustrated in H.V. Morton’s London where he contrasts the beehive with the dynamics of a big city:
Had we ascended from the bee perhaps the greatest happiness we could achieve would be an unspectacular death in the service of the London County Council. But in London, as in all modern cities, it is the individual who counts. Our eight millions split themselves up into ones and twos: little men and little women dreaming their private dreams, pursuing their own ambitions, crying over their own failures, and rejoicing at their own successes.*
In contrast to Morton’s city, what the hive teaches us is that seeking after our own is ultimately a form of self-destruction because we cannot do on our own what we can do when we are part of a community. Our community is both the people with whom we interact and the setting of the interaction. In other words, land is our community as well as people.** Like the worker bees who care for their environment through their efforts to nourish the hive, our care for nature can become an outgrowth of our labors on behalf of our human community. In this way, we harmonize our lives with our earth mother and become part of the symbiosis of the natural world. As we claim our place in this synergy we will discover our unique purpose, and find that changing the world and making it better is something that emanates out of us and folds together with the contributions of our community to create a far better world than could be dreamed by any one individual.
*H.V. Morton, London (Dodd: New York, 1941), 3.
**Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (Oxford: London, 1949), 207-210.
Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel