Yesterday, as I was doing my morning stretches outside, a wasp came to land on my arm. What attracted her to my wooly jumper, I don’t know. But it was clear she had no intention of stinging me. And after a while, it seemed she had little intention to leave either.
In any case, she got me thinking grand ideas…
My relation to wasps has been tenuous lately. I find them fascinating, frequently annoying, and occasionally horrifying.
Last week, minding my own business on the hammock, an insect pair plummeted onto the hammock fabric next to my face. Only, it wasn’t actually a mating pair, as I first thought.
On top was a wasp, yes. But underneath — up-turned and twisted in upon herself — was a bee lying on her back in utter submission. Perhaps the bee was already dead. Perhaps paralysed and dying. She seemed to offer no resistance.
The other side of me, placid bees continued busying about their bee-business, dropping into flowers and buzzing around the pot plants. They showed no discernible concern for the bizarre violence befalling their counterpart, a mere 20cm away.
Why is a wasp flying around with a bee in her clutches anyway?
Yesterday’s morning wasp was decidedly more peaceful. But, I don’t speak waspish, so who knows.
Yesterday’s lesson was about fairness and justice.
My relation to human society has also been tenuous. I get highly attuned to any act of injustice that I witness, and it affects me at a deep, visceral level. Others seem to be able to brush it of with a jaded stoicism, sometimes even with a bleak sardonic light-heartedness. Me, I get fixated on counteracting the act of injustice, to the point of putting myself in harm’s way. I cannot live in a world where the perpetrator goes unpunished.
At least, that’s what I hear and feel from within me. But, does it need to be so?
Justice, and the Psychology of Personality
The “sense of injustice” has been conceptualised as a sub-trait resulting from one’s personality type, and at times as something of a personality trait in itself — some people naturally seem to be highly sensitive to injustice, some people aren’t.
The other end of this, is not just how attentive one is to perceiving injustice, but also how one reacts to injustice. Some people tend to be more forgiving, some seek retribution.
Unfortunately for me, it seems I tend to be both attentive and vindictive.
Whilst personality is normally regarded as a fixture of one’s life, it’s merely a standard pattern of behaviour to a standard pattern of situations — personality changes when the situation changes. Also, you can work with your strengths and weaknesses, to adapt one’s personality to what life is giving you.
In short, if I can’t make the world fair and just, I can at least adjust my way of thinking so that the world doesn’t crush me.
Time for a philosophical excursion; this one with practical application!
The Difference? Indifference!
Life isn’t fair. Nor is it unfair.
When do you get stung by the wasp?
Sometimes without any ill intention of yours at all. Just by being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sometimes you are stung only due to where where you innocently put your foot. From your perspective, there is no malice, no nefarious design, no hostility.
Nonetheless, from the wasp’s point of view, you are a threat, and the reasonable response (or, as humans like to call it these days, “rational” response*) is to punish, inflict pain.
But so, too, will you get stung if you intentions are threatening—if you are trying to swat the wasp away, or to knock down their nest from the rafter.
As such, we need to accept we will get stung in life even with the best of intentions. Don’t take it personally—it’s part of life. Just ask that bee.
What you Can Do About it
But, you will get stung a whole lot more if you have ill-willed designs.
Getting stung or not, as an all-or-nothing concept, is beyond your control. To try stop it entirely is an exercise in futile vanity — as sure a route to anxiety & nervous breakdown as any.
What you can do is ensure you don’t increase the risk. By minimising how many nasty things you think and do will mitigate how many people come to sting you later.
Justice can be sought out. Indeed, we as beings of moral responsibility, it must be pursued. At the same time, do not allow a random injustice to existentially destroy you.
To live as part of nature, we must see it for what is is — occasionally flawed, occasionally unfair, but at the end of the day it’s not out to get me. It’s not all about me. To continue as a member of society, as a member Earth’s web of life, I have that responsibility to pursue the ideal of fairness, but also to gracefully and humbly accept that some of this is beyond me.
- Törnroos, Maria & Elovainio, Marko & Hintsa, Taina & Hintsanen, Mirka & Pulkki-Råback, Laura & Jokela, Markus & Lehtimäki, Terho & Raitakari, Olli & Keltikangas-Jarvinen, Liisa. (2018). Personality traits and perceptions of organisational justice. International Journal of Psychology. 54. 10.1002/ijop.12472
- Lovas, Ladislav & Wolt, Richard. (2002). Sensitivity to injustice in the context of some personality traits. Studia Psychologica. 44. 125-131.
- John J. Ray (1985) The Punitive Personality, The Journal of Social Psychology, 125:3, 329-333, DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1985.9922894
- Roberts SC, Vakirtzis A, Kristjánsdóttir L, Havlíček J. Who punishes? Personality traits predict individual variation in punitive sentiment. Evol Psychol. 2013 Feb 18;11(1):186-200. PMID: 23531805.
- see e.g. Ross, L., & Nisbett, R. E. (1991). The person and the situation: Perspectives of social psychology. Mcgraw-Hill Book Company.
- *note those definitions. Is a wasp rational? Or is what we call “rational” really just action in accordance with natural law?