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Beekeeping Politics and Personalities

A common problem in beekeeping

It doesn't matter what organisation you are involved in, whether it is the workplace, a tennis club or a beekeeping association, sooner or later there are likely to be problems with people who seem to think the world revolves around them. Their attitude and antics often make things unpleasant and more difficult for others to perform their tasks, but these people are usually so selfish they don't consider that.

I have a view the problem partly comes from the modern culture, where in the workplace many people are so concerned about losing their jobs that they have to justify their existence, otherwise they may be seen as worthless and surplus to requirements. This seems much more apparent with those who have a history of working in large organisations, where they seem to acquire habits that many people who behave in a normal and natural way find annoying. I call this "big company mentality" and unfortunately this attitude is invading beekeeping without much benefit to the craft.

The fear of losing their job or not getting promotion makes people say the "right" things, "cover their arses" and not take any risks. There is often a lack of overall knowledge because they are only "trained" for certain aspects, so don't understand the fuller picture. Thinking is no longer lateral and sense is no longer common. They only subscribe to the blame culture when it is someone else's fault and the credit culture when it suits them.

This is not a rant - far from it, but a carefully thought out theory on the problems of modern day life, based on a full working life, running my own business for 25 years and over 50 years of committee work, where I have seen the change from decisions being made based on knowledge, experience and common sense. As a former board member of three trade associations, I have also seen plenty of manipulation and distorted truths, to the point where I can now spot many of the tricks employed.

In getting around the country quite a lot, either lecturing or demonstrating, I see and hear a lot of what is going on, or sometimes not going on. I often spend time at large events and, being well known, I speak to a lot of beekeepers. I don't mention anything that will identify anyone or a particular BKA, but there are clearly widespread problems. At events, there are often people deliberately avoiding others and complaining about other people or a committee. There are often two sides to an issue, I often hear both, and they are rarely the same.

The obvious questions are why are some people awkward and confrontational and why are they able to have such influence? I think it's for a number of reasons. We are all volunteers and in some cases it is seen as being powerful to dominate others. I have been in many meetings when someone has raised their voice, threatened to resign or been offensive and others have backed down, not wanting any controversy. They seem incapable of winning an argument by persuasion, but by abuse, bluff and bluster. In general I find these people are inadequate in some way and very often have little real beekeeping knowledge. What little they do have is usually out of books.

How many times do you see hard working, knowledgeable and helpful people being discredited or belittled? It's often done because lesser people see them as a threat to them, so try to marginalise them. It often results in manipulation behind the scenes by enlisting support from new people or weaker individuals. On many occasions I have seen people form an opinion or vote to "support my husband/wife/partner", rather than by using their heads for the good of the craft. This is often a problem when partners are on the same committee, although I have seen some very good partnerships work well.

I regularly hear about such things as secretaries/chairmen not telling people there are meetings, manipulation of minutes, minutes "disappearing", ignoring the constitution, committees resigning, legal action or threats of it, abuse of members, etc.

I am interested in the practical side of beekeeping and spend a lot of time helping beekeepers to keep their bees better. I am aware that some people who book speakers won't book certain presenters because they are not interested in or disagree with their topics. I know of many instances where information, often from outside events, has been deliberately withheld from members. Several BKAs don't have teaching apiaries because an influential element don't want it. Why are situations like this allowed to prevail? Probably because if members don't know about something they can't deal with it, but it often happens.

Politics and personalities have always been a problem in beekeeping. Just look back in history a bit and you will find things written about people that would be repeated in court if written today. Over the years I have seen many resignations of good hard working people with sound thinking and beekeeping knowledge, or they have not sought re-election. Many have been a loss to beekeeping, but too often the troublemakers have been allowed to survive to wait for their next victim. They are often allowed to get away with it because of the weakness of others who won't stand up to them. There is often a bad atmosphere that prevents others from getting involved.

I have written a lot here about a small number of troublesome people, but unfortunately some of them have wheedled their way into influential positions. I see a lot of well run BKAs and there is no doubt in my mind the ability of the administrators is reflected in the knowledge and enthusiasm of the members. The poorly run BKAs often have problems of the type I have already mentioned. There are a large number of very good people doing good voluntary work that is largely appreciated, but in some cases their efforts are sabotaged by lesser people with their own agendas.

Just because someone has their name in a lot of places, appears to be involved in everything, talks with a ridiculous "pseudo posh" voice, has the stupid "smile" they instantly switch on and off, etc, etc, doesn't mean they are doing an adequate and efficient job. It often means they have been on a "presentation or self enhancement" course and may be covering something up.

I would like to rid beekeeping of some of the nonsense I see, because it is affecting my hobby and that of a lot of other people. In my opinion we should always consider honey bees, but a few people only consider themselves. They don't see themselves as being the problem, because of course it's always someone else's fault. We must all be strong and make sure they don't get away with it.

Roger Patterson.