The following is based on content presented as part of the “Staying the Course” workshop at the New Day Rising Conference in February 2021. The full workshop is available to conference registrants through Whova and to new participants who enroll in the UULI course.
I once asked a group to guess how much honey the average bee produces. Someone shouted “two cups” and another guessed “five pounds.” No one was prepared for the actual answer: one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. During her six weeks of life, an average honey bee flies 162 miles gathering nectar from 3600 flowers to make two calories worth of honey.
What about “busy as a bee?” Aren’t bees models of productivity? If being busy means “being productive” no wonder we guess a higher output in the honey department. And if those are our expectations for honey bees, we may overestimate what we think we should be able to produce in our lifetime.
Why do we expect so much of ourselves? Like a bee, each of us is one person. One. What any of us can produce in our lifetime is pretty small in the scheme of things. But — here’s the good news — that’s all that’s asked of us. Just as we don’t expect a bee to produce more than she does, why do we expect it of ourselves or each other?
This is especially true among people working for social change. We see the need and feel the urgency. We push and push. But, friends, we can’t do everything. Each of us can only do our part.
Spiritual Leadership is about navigating between our power and our powerlessness for the sake of love and justice. Each of us has the power to do our part; and we are powerless to do more than our part. This understanding invites us to stop aspiring to do more than what is ours to do or expecting it of others.
The bridge to the hymn “May the Works I’ve Done Speak for Me,” captures this well:
The work that I've done, it seems so small.
Sometimes, it seems like I've done nothing at all.
When I stand before my God, I want to hear Him say well done.
May the works that I've done, speak for me.
We see the needs. We long for so much to change. So much is at stake. And, we fight the reality that what we can do is so small in comparison. This is a humbling fact of our lives. Yet, when we consider the honey bee, we are reminded that every twelfth of a teaspoon of honey contributes to making a full teaspoon; every teaspoon to a tablespoon...to a cup...to a jar...to a pound...
The longtime change activist and musician Pete Seeger had an interesting perspective on the contribution each of us can make. He said,
If anybody asks what the chances are that the human race makes it, I'd have to give it a 50/50 chance. But that's because this implies that any one of us might be the grain of sand to make the scales go the right way, instead of the wrong way.
We don’t know when the scales will tip and whose grain of sand will tip them. Yet every grain of sand before the one that tips the scales is crucial. Make your contribution count toward love, justice and healing. Your bit is needed for the scales to tip — even if your grain is the only one at first.
People who study social change have done experiments and learned that success doesn’t depend on having a majority. The tipping point is actually 25%. In her essay “How to Make Social Change” for Yes! magazine, Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz shares that when 25% of people make a change, others tend to pile on. And every contribution toward that 25% matters. Your responsibility is to do your part. You have the power to do that even if you are powerless to effect the change alone.
And...as you go about delivering your gift, you’re doing a lot more than producing something. Honey bees do more than make honey. In pursuit of nectar for that honey, they spread pollen. Their activity makes another generation of fruit, seeds and flowers possible. Your contribution is not just about visible or tangible results. You may not know most of the impact you are making. As you navigate between your power and powerlessness towards Beloved Community, you impact the world around you — touching hearts and lives. You create a living link between the ancestors that have done their part for justice and liberation and the generations that come after you. Each of us keeps memory and hope and possibility alive for our uncertain future.
Just do your part. It’s all that’s required of you.