Leave it to my seven-year-old to ask questions that plunge me into an existential crisis.
Lately, Evan has developed a fear of bees. To quell this fear, I take him hiking, and let him observe the bees at work. I tell him to notice how the bees aren’t interested in harming him, only in doing their own important work. When he asks why their work is important, I launch into a big explanation of bees importance in the cycle of life, how they pollenate the plants other species need to survive, and how, if they didn’t exist, humanity as we know it could virtually be wiped out.
“So now you know how important bees are, and why the world needs them.”
He seems to accept this answer, and is slightly less afraid of bees.
Days later, we’re out on a hike, and he asks, “Why are we important?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean like…bees make honey and pollenate the flowers and all that. But what do people do?”
“Well, we make art and build beautiful cities and …”
“No, I mean, what do we do that’s important to keep the planet alive?”
And every answer I come up with….(we feed the homeless, we save animals from extinction, we plant trees…) is something we humans do as a result of some disaster we’ve created (poverty, extinction, deforestation).
Later, still struggling for a good answer for my kid, I go online and find nothing, save for a few philosophical discussions on message boards, and a YouTube video of Barbra Streisand singing, People…people who need people. But here’s a question. Does any other species, does the planet, in fact, need people? One message-board-person hypothesizes that we are driven to create and build, and therefore perhaps we can one day save the planet from destruction by an asteroid. Well…it’s a stretch but. Maybe.
I’m not an anthropologist. I’m sure there are a lot of great reasons humans are needed in the circle of life, but I am currently stumped for an answer.