Recently, I sat down to watch Bee Movie with my 2-year-old. At first, I thought it would be just another movie about environmentalism and humans destroying the earth. I could not have been more pleased to be wrong.
Considering what sometimes passes for entertainment these days, it’s always pleasantly surprising to find important lessons and little treasures in any movie. Bee Movie emphasized a very important life lesson that is oftentimes forgotten – the virtue and value of hard work and labor.
The movie follows the story of a young bee, Barry B. Benson, who graduates from college with dreams of changing the world. He is quickly disillusioned. He finds out, shortly after graduating, that he gets only one job for the rest of his life. What’s more, the job is mundane and does not seem to be of much value.
The world of work
I imagine many college graduates today feel a lot like Barry. They graduate with dreams of making a difference in the world but then reality hits. They quickly find out that entry level positions are often mundane and boring. Working for a living is nowhere near what they imagined. They think they were meant for something great but often they cannot even find job in their chosen career field. They are not making the money they were promised, and they are doing jobs for which they receive no pats on the back or gold stars.
Barry feels the same way. He finds out that making honey is not that great of a job. Worse yet, he finds out that he and his fellow bees receive nothing in return from those reaping the rewards of their efforts – humans.
Let’s go to court
So what does Barry do? He sues the honey farms.
During the scene recounting the opening statements, the lawyer for the honey farms, Mr. Montgomery, says the world will be turned upside down if the bees win.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my grandmother was a simple woman,” Montgomery, says. “Born on a farm, she believed it was man’s divine right to benefit from the bounty of nature God put before us. If we lived in the topsy-turvy world Mr. Benson imagines, just think of what it would mean!”
Of course, Barry the bee goes on to state just how evil Montgomery and the honey farms are.
“I’m just an ordinary bee. Honey’s pretty important to me. It’s important to all bees. We invented it! . . . Unfortunately, there are some people in this room who think they can take it away from us ‘cause we’re the little guys! I’m hoping that, after this is all over, you’ll see how, by taking our honey, you not only take everything we have but everything we are!”
A modern parable
The bees win the lawsuit, causing the honey farms to stop all production. All honey is confiscated and returned to the bees. This results in an immense surplus of honey and, because of this surplus, the bees see no need to work. In fact, they really cannot work, as they do not have the capacity to store more honey. Moreover, there is no need to work because there is no one to eat the honey. The bees start living a luxurious life of meaninglessness.
It does not take long for the environment to start deteriorating as flowers and trees begin dying from lack of pollination. The topsy-turvy world Montgomery predicted becomes a reality. Soon, the world is in crisis and Barry realizes that the lives of the bees, too, are at stake.
In the end, Barry realizes his mistake and more importantly, an essential truth that is evident in the best line of the movie: “There is no job too small. Because if you do great at a small job, it makes a big difference.”
There is dignity in work. No matter how inconsequential the work may seem, it has an effect on the entire world. More so, we are not here to work for work’s sake (or even for glorification of ourselves or for money), but rather we are here to work for our family, the community, and, most importantly, for the glory of God.
We were created to work
“So the Lord God took the man and put him in his garden of delight, to cultivate and tend it” (Gen. 2:15 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation).
Today, society seems to hold conflicting beliefs about the value of work. Many agree that without work, life has little meaning. But some people believe who we are individuals is defined by the work we do –the more important the job, the more important the individual. And ironically and confusingly so, many in society also believe that no one should really have to work (take the greatly abused welfare and nanny state, for example) and that there is something wrong with the world if you do have to work.
For instance, some feel there is something wrong with stay-at-home mothers. Feminists think women should not stay home and raise their children; they should also have a career. But if they do have to stay home they should get paid for it, or at the very least be subsidized.
What too many people today do not understand is that work is a virtue. Not only did our Creator command it, but our obligations to family and society also demand it.
“Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history” (Laborem Exercens, #16).
Without work, there is a danger of falling into slothfulness, having little ambition. Without work a person can start to exhibits laziness physically and spiritually as well. Saint Paul warns us against slothfulness in his letter to the Thessalonians:
“The charge we gave you on our visit was that the man who refuses to work must be left to starve. And now we are told that there are those among you who live in idleness, neglecting their own business to mind other people’s. We charge all such, we appeal to them in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn their bread by going on calmly with their work” (2 Thes 3:10-13 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation).
Work is greater than riches
Slothfulness is wasting the gifts that God gave us; it is rejecting those gifts, failing to consider their goodness, and failing to exhibit gratitude. When sloth becomes spiritual sloth, acedia, it “goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness” (Catechism #2094).
Moreover, physical sloth is refusing the joy and gifts that God, through His goodness, has given us to benefit others for His glory.
“For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has” (Gaudium Et Spes, 35).
There is no job too small
How often do we hear that there is no meaning or fulfillment in those “dead-end” jobs, as if there is something wrong with being a garbage collector, pipe fitter, welder, or truck driver?
Even our Lord cautioned against thinking that there are “small jobs,” and commanded us to always have integrity in our work and be content with our pay, as long as we are able to provide for our families.
“The publicans, too, came to be baptized; Master, they said to him, what are we to do? He told them, ‘Do not go beyond the scale appointed you.’ Even the soldiers on guard asked him, ‘What of us? What are we to do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not use men roughly, do not lay false information against them; be content with your pay’.” (Lk 3:12-14 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation)
Indeed, Barry Benson, the bee, had a problem with his small, mundane job. But in the end he realizes that no job is small at all. Each job has value and there is virtue in work as it benefits all God’s creation.
Work allows man to transform nature, cultivating it for his needs, fulfilling the responsibility of good stewardship and achieving fulfillment as a human being (Laborem Exercens, #9).