Why care about a single wasp? And what that means for our future

Last weekend, I met up with a friend at a popular beauty spot not far from where I live. It was a warm, late-Summer/ early Autumn day, and so we sat at an outside table, chatting and taking in the views.

Now, I am not a fan of strong perfume. However, my friend had apparently bathed in the stuff. And while my senses eventually numbed to its overpowering aroma, the same couldn’t be said for the local wasps. Very soon, there were two or three of them buzzing around our table, much to my companion’s irritation.

I watched on somewhat bemused as he swatted and swiped, becoming more and more exasperated as they persisted and dodged his flailing arms. I suggested going inside - to no avail.

Then suddenly, he produced a napkin – and before I knew it, he’d promptly squashed one of them. Dead.

As he made his strike, I felt myself flinch. No! Don’t!  

The ‘problem’ worsened as inevitably, another wasp appeared on the scene, only to meet with the same fate.

I was astonished, not just by his actions, but also by the sharp ache I felt inside me. Fuss and melodrama are not normally my thing. After all, they are just wasps, aren’t they? Yet extinguishing these little lives – and so violently - seemed needless, nonsensical, cruel.

A Wasp’s Intent

Wasps are not aggressive on purpose. In fact, they're not aggressive at all. Like bees, they play an important role in the earth’s ecosystem, pollinating plants and doing their bit to control the insect pest population.

Around wasps our objective really ought to be, stay calm and simply keep out of their way.

In these last, lazy days of summer, and forced out of their nests by hunger or for want of something to do (if the Queen no longer has any use for them) they're on a search for food. Put temptation in their path, and of course they will come. Try to bat them away, and more than likely, they will retaliate.

In any case, killing a random wasp that’s hovering around your personal space is a self-defeating act. A dying wasp emits a chemical that warns other wasps to be on the look-out. So, the more you swat, the more aggressive the rest become.

(Note - there are certain situations when swarms of stinging insects can pose a real threat, and some people are highly allergic to wasp venom. Let’s be clear, I am not talking here about such situations – of which there are relatively few.)

A Human’s Intent

Now, before I make my friend the baddie of this plot, let’s face it: most people, and perhaps I should say most ‘urbanised’ people, don’t care much for insects (bees and butterflies excepted).  Even the most passionate wildlife lovers will declare that disposing of an annoying wasp – or any pest for that matter – is completely justifiable, even necessary, in certain conditions. Some even go so far as to demonise them. A quick skim of the internet revealed the following wasp-related headlines and phrases:

 “Experts reveal why the evil insects target you”

“…Murderous Wasps and Bees”

“…Flying death-dealers”

We live in a culture which mostly sees the wasp as an enemy, an undesirable, a nuisance that must be dealt with.

Why? Is it a case of: Sting or be stung? Kill or be killed? Do we believe it’s fair game - the wasp is out to get us, and so we need to out-tough it?

Are we so frightened of the creature that, in our panic, the only action we can resort to is ‘taking it out’?

Do we believe that we have a right to trade a tiny being’s life for a moment of possible personal discomfort? I suspect we do…

… but do we care about the impact of our actions?

Do we care what this says about us or our humanity?

Have we ever even thought about it?

Why We Should Care

Maybe it’s time we did. Wasps have been around for over 150 million years, which puts the 200,000-year existence of homo sapiens firmly in the shade. They are great survivors – and we are newcomers.

We are a relatively young species whose individual members will not only wage war on a single wasp (and many other living species), but collectively, we humans are also well on the way to wiping out all life on earth.

We are the ‘not so intelligent’ species, which has yet to learn how to live alongside the rest of nature peacefully and sustainably, in a way that respects all our interdependency.

And so now, thanks to the remorseless expansion of human enterprise, wasps along with the rest of the insect population are in terrible trouble. The abundance of insects on our planet has reduced by 75% in the last 27 years.  And that’s a problem of gargantuan proportions for the future.

Time to Look in the Mirror

We can look ‘out there’ and shame the world leaders, governments, big businesses and institutions, holding them accountable for this great calamity. And we can call for urgent change.  Absolutely, we must.

But there is also one thing we must remember: if we really want to heal the world and reverse the damage that’s been done, we must look ‘in here’ first.

We must look into the mirror to find our own, personal dogma’s, wounds and dysfunctions. Why? Because the problems of our times are no more than the collective result of the daily activities of every one of us. The short-sighted, human-centric attitudes and behaviours that play out at a global level, are seeded by the attitudes and ideals that shape our everyday lives, e.g.,

… when we neglect to recycle,

… when we buy low priced, mass produced t-shirts that we’ll wear only once,

… when we sit more than 10 hours a day at a screen,

… when we pave over our gardens to provide more parking space,

… when we leave our rubbish strewn across the countryside,

… when we choose to run a carbon-fuelled vehicle,

… when we kill a small creature that has done us no harm.

While we may not realise it, we co-create and re-create the cultures we despise: the same ones that are wiping out forests, burning fossil fuels, over-exploiting natural resources, polluting the environment, causing the extinction of most animal species - threatening our very existence.

Now looking back at the ‘perfume-flailing arms-wasp killing’ incident, I’ve come to believe that the pain I felt was not only of heart-felt sympathy for the little creature writhing in front of me.   I also had a deep sense of sadness and a gut-wrenching realisation:

The harm we inflict on a tiny and ‘insignificant’, single wasp on the one hand, eventually scales up to the damage we do to ourselves, our fellow beings and the planet on the other.

If we want a world, whose inhabitants have the capacities to lead, support and enable the changes we need to see, it has to start with you and me - at the grass roots. In our communities, our businesses, our families, ourselves.

Because, until the ‘big’ decision-makers finally act as we would wish them to, it’s how we show up that matters.

Every. Single. Day.