Where There’s Honey, There’s Bees


I have bees and in having bees I believe that I owe them a “common” courtesy. I must supply them with a safe place to live and to food and water. I must consider their needs during different times of the year and I must do my best to assure their health. I’m not sure that many would disagree with these responsibilities, but perhaps with the use of the word “courtesy”.

In the beekeeping world the question of what to do with a weak hive is ubiquitous. Some recommend doing nothing and letting them die out. This method is, after all, the most natural of methods. However, I would consider this to be somewhat discourteous. The Europeans did bring the honeybee to this continent and so we seem to at least partially responsible for their well-being.

Does courtesy, especially to animals such as bees, actually apply? I think it does. I don’t open the hive up unless absolutely necessary. I consider that hive their home and I a guest (when I do open it up). Of course, I want my bees to survive, but my own desires for their well-being aside, the idea of being courteous seems to be a much nicer way of going about keeping animals of any kind. Just think of the changes in attitudes towards pets such as dogs if we were only to be courteous to them.

This brings up an interesting issue: being courteous to one species is not necessarily being courteous to another. A dog needs exercise on a daily basis. To not allow the dog to exercise is in a sense being discourteous.   To expect the dog to be “good” and not allow it the needed exercise is irresponsible. Bees need a certain environment in which they can thrive in the same way that a dog needs a certain environment in order to thrive.

But does this concept apply to all creatures? Again, I think it does; and to the environment as a whole. What if we were all to think of ourselves as guests on this beautiful planet! As a guest, I must be courteous to the host, not overstay my welcome, and respect the boundaries that define…being courteous.

This concept of courteousness seems to be in line with the old analogy of the sandbox: the rules that apply in a sandbox full of children, apply to all adults in the world. I would only broaden that analogy to all creatures and to the earth itself. The old adage rings true not matter: we can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. But to get honey, it would help to consider the bees!



  1. The philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville asserts that politeness, or courtesy, is a virtue but in comparison to all the others, it is the weakest of all. For example, he notes that even a decidedly evil person can assume a courteous exterior manner. Courtesy permits us to operate socially in a way that is expected, or at least appreciated. However, it accomplishes little else and can be used as a cover for subterfuge that is damaging, cruel, or manipulative. As you note here, being courteous in one regard may involve doing damage elsewhere. Perhaps you would agree that there are some people who through their actions relieve us of the requirement to be courteous to them in response; one may still choose to do it, but circumstantially, a discourteous reaction might be the better choice–or at least more enjoyable.

    1. I do agree, as you probably know already, that “a discourteous reaction might be the better choice” and often is the better choice with regard to our relationships with other people. I think, however, that being courteous comes with a certain assumption of consideration: I must at least consider others in order to be courteous to them.

      I think with regard to nature, being “courteous” in the way I present here, is really not an option. When someone is discourteous to me I rebut or react. When we are discourteous to nature I think our discourtesy is neither a better choice nor is more enjoyable.
      best, m

      1. Yes, courtesy is never more a virtue than when employed toward someone who deserves its opposite. I make no claims about an attitude toward Nature, which is indifferent to our actions since it has no consciousness. A rogue developer who despoils a natural habitat for profit might be considered discourteous, but that discourtesy is to us and other creatures, who will suffer deprivation and despoilment because of his or her actions.

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