III.5 “Bee in Flow”
The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes the middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. – Francis Bacon (The new organon)
What's the difference between a lawyer and a leech? Answer: After you die, a leech stops sucking your blood. – Internet Joke
Since historical times, some professions have been associated with bees, ants, and leeches.
Bees create, ants toil, and leeches destroy. In jokes and proverbs, some occupations are exemplars of bees, ants, and leeches. Although these generalizations are a huge oversimplification, there is more than a grain of truth in these analogies. Researchers have found that personality is aligned with profession. If somebody’s personality fits well, they are more successful, measured by a higher salary. People choose a particular profession because of their personality, for instance it has been shown that economists choose their career because they value money more than ethical behavior. According to the annual Gallup ethics survey, nurses and doctors are the most ethical professions, while bankers, lawyers, managers, car sales people, and politicians are seen as the least honest and ethical. In another survey done among 652 Israeli professionals, bankers and manager were craving for power, doctors and social workers value benevolence and universalism, accountants strive for security and tradition, while artists and scientists search for self-direction. So there are indeed archetypical bees, ants, and leeches among the different professions.
Bees create honey, and they pollinate flowers, according to some estimates a third of all food we eat is dependent on bee pollination. Human bees create products as bakers, chefs, tailors, painters, sculptors, engineers, builders, authors, composers and inventors. They are primarily motivated by the joy of creating, by trying to solve a problem or creating a better product. They genuinely want to help and make the world a better place.
Ants toil by running around, and collecting food for their hive, and fighting and killing ants from competing ant hives. Just like the real ants, human ants scurry around, working hard, competing, and sometimes fighting obsessively as competitive athletes, vendors, lawyers, accountants, managers, and surgeons. They are predominantly motivated by the wish to win and acquire fame.
Leeches destroy by lurking hidden on the ground of ponds and lakes waiting to attack their prey, to suck vertebrate and invertebrate blood. Human leeches, motivated by power and money, show an unstoppable appetite for wealth as hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, class action and malpractice lawyers, and beauty surgeons.
But the behavioral boundaries between the three virtual tribes are fluid and permeable. Bees, behaving like leeches, are not beyond attacking and robbing honey from a weaker bee hive. Ants can grow wings, as the queen and the male ants do for their wedding nights. Ants can also switch from competing with other hives to collaborating, as some wood ants (Formica paralugubris) in the Swiss Jura do, which instead of fighting, collaborate across thousands of colonies, with resounding evolutionary success.
The boundaries are similarly fluid between human bees, ants, and leeches. There are artists who are creating counterfeit copies of famous paintings, and malicious hackers using their coding skills to break into IT systems to extract bitcoin ransom. On the other hand, there are venture capitalists acting as innovative entrepreneurs, lawyers who are fighting for human rights, and surgeons reconstructing shattered limbs of victims of accidents and wars.
The key point is that we all should try to be more like bees, independently of what we work. There are professions such as competitive athletes, factory workers, lawyers, venture capitalists, and hedge fund managers, where the nature of the profession is geared towards ant and leech-like activity, but everybody can be a bee in flow, whatever their profession is.
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