top of page

Probity and Politeness

Probity: The quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency

Politeness: Having or showing behaviour that is respectful and considerate of other people (OED)

If you can’t discover what’s keeping you in, the will to get out soon becomes confused and ineffectual.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

The Ishmael in the book of the same name is a gorilla in conversation with a human. Quinn uses this device to take readers out of their normal comfortable way of seeing the world to a place where their perspective changes, a place from which things look very different.

What is interesting about Ishmael is that, despite the woeful situation in which he finds himself, he shows no trace of anger. Anger is not within him because he is a gorilla and a gentle giant, whereas anger is a particularly human and destructive emotion. What he does show is enormous understanding. He understands exactly why humans act in ways that are so often destructive of the world around them. He does not condone such actions but, by standing in the shoes of the actors, he is able to understand why it is that they cannot see the prison they are in and, patiently, he leads his human companion to the same understanding. Once we reach this point nothing looks the same.

Natural beekeepers often find themselves standing in a place where nothing looks the same. To them the world, not just of bees but, sooner or later, the whole world, looks very different. They have seen what is keeping them in and they have used that knowledge to escape. So liberating and life changing can this discovery be that one wants to tell others about it. Thus, by degrees, knowledge of this escape route spreads. With it spreads the realisation that the ‘natural’ approach applies not just to beekeeping but to the whole way we interact with, love and care for the planet.

What if Ishmael, a fully grown male gorilla, had become angry? His human interlocutor would most surely have fled in terror and never returned. Anger even without a physical threat, for example angry writing, similarly makes us draw away, put up the defences, reject the potential attack. The reader ceases to heed the content of the words and responds solely to their tone. The writer will be labelled as aggressive and unworthy of attention. Others reading the message will likely draw a similar conclusion. So the word spreads that writer is a person to be avoided.

Yet a well known and very internet-active beekeeper has recently proudly stated that rudeness and anger are not just acceptable but appropriate, even to complete strangers should they be deemed worthy of his contempt. The interchanges in question (one cannot call them conversations) are conducted in the most public of ways, on Twitter and Facebook. He then boasts of his rudeness and intemperance on his internet forum.

Other natural beekeepers, both beginners and those of long standing, are not immune from his rage. If one mentions certain world views or types of hive, an attack will quickly follow. Scorn, ridicule and deliberate misrepresentation are the favourite weapons. Biodynamic practices appear to draw particularly vicious tirades similar to the vitriol poured on pesticide manufacturers, as if they were of the same ilk! This is particularly odd given that his internet forum contains a section headed biodynamics. Many a beginner has innocently wandered into the trap thus set, only to be publicly ridiculed. They do not return for a second helping. Yet this person insists that he maintains a ‘broad church’. He has adopted the term ‘balanced’ to describe his approach. There seems little balance in his attitude to others. Anger, it seems, precludes self reflection.

This beekeeper also decries empathy and any attempt to understand persons who hold different views. Understanding why someone holds a particular view or acts in a particular way is not the same as agreeing with that view or way of acting. As Ishmael showed, until one understands a mindset one cannot find a way out of that mindset. If one’s thoughts are dominated by anger, as this beekeeper himself admits, one’s mind is clouded. That makes it difficult to see the way out of one’s own mindset, never mind someone else’s.

Regrettably, when this was politely put to this beekeeper on his internet forum, he responded with what can only be called arrogance and contempt, twisting the argument and introducing emotive irrelevancies. He disingenuously stated that he does not speak for natural beekeeping as a whole but only for himself. Yet, for many, he is the name of natural beekeeping. In acting as he does he gives many the impression (or, if they seek it, the excuse) that natural beekeepers are arrogant, rude and aggressive. Potential interest in the gentle art of keeping bees in accordance with their needs and desires will be undermined. If you have love and empathy in your heart, why would you listen to someone so consumed with their own rage?

It is with great sadness, therefore, that we at the Natural Beekeeping Trust must firmly distance ourselves from this highly regrettable behaviour. Please be assured that we will always act with probity, politeness and love in all we say and do in our assistance and promotion of the miraculous honeybee.

bottom of page