What Mama Taught Me About Bees and Kindness

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Written by Mom Babble’s Mary Katherine

I had a Southern upbringing, with everything one would imagine that entails. Sweet tea, porch swings, barefoot adventures. Conservative politics, Sunday dresses, and kids with BB guns. All that and more.

But one of my favorite things about my Southern upbringing was the way my mama used words.

Madder than a wet hen. Hasn’t got a pot to pee in. Down yonder a little ways. Bless her heart.

Funny little sayings though they were, there was a lesson to be learned in their simplicity. Sometimes, we try too darn hard to say things extravagantly when the truth is really quite plain. And one of those funny, simple truths has stuck with me my whole life.

***

I was eleven years old when I first came home crying on account of the mean girls. Mama sat me on the front porch swing and listened as I prattled through my emotions. I was heartbroken. I was embarrassed. I was angry.

“I tell you what I’m gonna do! I’m gonna think of the most clever, nasty names in the world and I’m gonna march right up to their lunchroom table and let ’em know how I really feel!”

Mama just listened. Then she started with questions.

What was it that I wanted in all of this? Was it revenge? Was it popularity?

No, not really.

Or was it just that I wished to have good, kind friends?

Bingo.

“Well, sweetheart. You know what they say. You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”

I let that sink in for a while. I didn’t like the thought of being vinegar, all sour and bitter. I needed to be the honey, sweet and pure. Simple enough, right?

As it turned out, being honey was really stinking hard.

But I worked at it. For the next few years, I was careful with my words. When in a disagreement, I would try my best to kindly state my argument. Politics, religion, whatever the topic…if something needed to be said, I tried to say it gently. I had to slow down my emotions and get a handle on my tongue. Self-control does not come naturally to me. It was a constant, uphill battle.

But you know what? After all those years, it turned out Mama was right.

The bees did show up.

***

Just recently I’ve noticed a trend in the blogosphere. Writers are taking to their keyboards with a heated fervor, unleashing their no-holds-barred opinions into the world. Crass language and crude humor, and an “if you don’t like it, you can shove it” attitude.

At first I sat back and watched. Was it really necessary to be so harsh? Weren’t they gonna scare everyone away with their sharp tongues and dirty words?

Didn’t their mama tell them about vinegar and bees?

But the nastier the opinion, the meaner the delivery, or the cruder the story…the more likes, shares, and comments seemed to appear. Their followers ate this stuff up!

The bees were buzzing, and I was baffled.

Is this what our generation believes? That being blunt and rude is the same as being strong and witty?

If so, I gotta tell ya: We are far off base.

It is pretty darn easy to state your mind bluntly. Having no filter requires no forethought. But taking something you believe in passionately and sharing it in a way that is respectful and kind? That takes an intentional approach.

It takes effort.

I realize that I cling to many notions society would shun as being antiquated. I believe in chivalry, respect of elders, and good table manners. I believe in “yes ma’am” and “no, thank you”.

And I believe that there is strength in kindness.

That being offensive is usually unnecessary and almost always avoidable. That learning to choose your words carefully and share your opinion thoughtfully is an art worth practicing. I believe that there is a time and a place for vinegar, but that you lose your taste for it if it’s the only thing you use.

And regardless of the strange behavior of these modern bees, I believe it is worth the effort to be honey.

Because, like my mama always said: If something is worth being said, it’s worth being said well.

And Mama hasn’t been wrong yet.

About The Author


MomBabble

Mary Katherine is a southerner, born and raised. Growing up in Alabama, she developed an affinity for lightning bugs, sweet tea, playing guitar, and having strong opinions. She's happily married with a son (Nugget) and two fur babies. Fun facts: MK is a living kidney donor, speaks a little Thai, and has written two novels.

6 Comments

  1. Kindness isn’t valued as much as it used to be, but it’s prevalent in all my favorite people. Vinegar may get the attention of bees these days but it’s not the kind of attention I would want for myself. This ‘vinegar to attract bees’ concept has been irking me for a while as well. I love your take on the phenomenon.

  2. I’m not southern, but my mom always told me the same thing and I think it’s so true! One of the things that really made me love my husband when we were dating was when he told me how when someone loses it on/around him he tries to think what would make them act that way and to ask them if they are ok. The easy way is not always (probably almost never) the right way, and it takes a lot of effort to give other people grace. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  3. Big ol’ Yankee here. My mom told me the same thing. It’s also preached by Jesus and the church-responding with love and kindness will always get you further than harsh words. I think people absolutely forget there is actually someone on the other end of the line. No matter the date, kindness will ALWAYS be valued-more so as it becomes less and less commonplace. I also had a barefoot, porch swing, BB gun childhood. Guess our country isn’t as different as many believe! 😉

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