“The Amber Quantity”

Posted by jlubans on November 21, 2012

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley, will be one of the required readings in my Democratic Workplace class in early 2013 at the University of Latvia.
I think the students will find the book of interest because it is well written – even the research is clearly conveyed – and because honey (medus) and the honey bee (medus bite) are a part of Latvian daiy life. Evidence of the centuries-old apiculture tradition is that you cannot turn around in Riga’s large central market without bumping into honey vendors selling dozens of types of honey and beeswax products. Nor is honey limited to one of the five large halls (former Zeppelin hangars).

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Caption 1. Inside the produce hall.
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Caption 2. More produce outside on a sunny winter’s day.

Each hall has a focus - one for meat, another for dairy, another for produce, but I can find honey in all five, and often in between the halls or outside in the open air. There are dozens of honey types all with special qualities for healing the lovelorn, boosting your immune system or rescuing one from insomnia.
When the class talks about Honeybee Democracy, I'd like to introduce this poem by Emily Dickinson:
Least Bee that brew—
A Honey's Weight
The Summer multiply—
Content Her smallest fraction help
The Amber Quantity—

English professor Marjorie Pryse, in her article” What Beekeeping Taught Me” explains some of what the poem means and what she hopes her students will come to understand:
“For Dickinson, the ‘least bee’ produces the ‘smallest fraction,’ but the honey she produces serves to ‘multiply’ the energy, light, warmth, color, and intensity of summer. Dickinson anthropomorphizes the bee, calling her ‘content’ to ‘help / the Amber Quantity.’”

For me, Dickinson’s “Amber Quantity” suggests the role of the individual in helping realize a collective good. Someone working on a democratic team brings, unstintingly, his or her unique talent to the group effort. The result, the outcome, the goal achieved - whatever it may be - is the merged effort of the individual and the other team members. And, like the honey bee, we can be “content” in our and the group’s achievement, the “Amber Quantity.” I don’t mean to imply there is anything mindlessly submissive about group effort; rather I refer to the joy of being an active and helping part of a group that achieves what it sets out to do.

PS. The next time you are in Sydney peruse Leading from the Middle at the University of New South Wales.

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