A few months ago, I delivered a commencement address at a high school graduation ceremony for Muslim students. I spoke about how the key to success in college—as in life—is to be like the honeybee. Since then, I’ve been able to reflect more on the example of bees and the lessons we can derive from them.
This entire metaphor goes back to a hadith mentioned in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad:
This hadith mentions three main lessons to learn.
Bees gravitate towards flowers. Flowers are symbols of beauty and goodness in literature across civilizations. Flowers cleanse the atmosphere by removing carbon dioxide from the environment, they can have medicinal properties, and they add color and vibrancy to their surroundings. From those flowers, bees take nectar, yet another thing which is considered pure and wholesome.
Lesson number one from bees, make sure what you take in is good and pure. Don’t hang out with people who are negative inputs. Not just that, hang out with people who are positive inputs.
The types of people you want to avoid are, first and foremost, those who take you away from your deen. People who trivialize, mock, or distort Islam are not positive inputs. Cut them out of your life.
Negative people are larger than just this category though. People who are lazy and distract you from your goals are also negative inputs. People who cause you to waste time are yet another negative input. People who use profanity. And on and on. Cut all these negative inputs out and replace them with positive ones.
Don’t forget, internet sites you browse are also inputs. Choose which sites you visit and how much time you spend on there with care. Constant negative inputs from a website can be just as detrimental as bad company.
Bees take nectar and give back honey. Likewise, a believer takes what is good and pure and gives back something that is even better.
There are some people who change the world for the better. Great people who have literally shaped civilizations and changed the course of history. But that’s not what is mean by laying what is pure and wholesome. This hadith is not aimed at the small elite who have changed the world. bee gives back honey when it takes nectar.
Every man has his sphere of influence. You are someone’s son, possibly someone’s brother, and if you’re not already, will insha’Allah one day be someone’s husband and someone’s father. That right there is your most important place to lay what is pure and wholesome. Be the model son, the model husband, and the model father. Be the son any parent would want to have, the husband any wife would want to brag about, and the father any child would remember with love and respect.
And after that, focus on being an exceptional student and colleague and employee. Give back such that people notice that what you’re giving is exemplary and beneficial.
Even when the bee is physically on the flower, taking nectar, it continues to flap its wings, never letting the flower get crushed under its weight.
Don’t overburden people. Don’t ask too much. Depend as little as possible on the generosity and kindness of others. Be the upper hand, not the lower hand. Self-sufficiency is a fast-disappearing sign of manliness but it’s one that is highly praised in Islam. Turn to Allah and minimize your reliance on people. When you do have to accept help, flap your wings so that you can accept the bare minimum assistance.