by Becky De Oliveira—
“Everyone has a ‘risk muscle.’ You keep it in shape by trying new things.
If you don’t, it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day.”
– Roger Von Oech
Suppose you have two jars and you fill one with houseflies and the other with bees and cover them with vented lids. After a couple of hours, you remove the lids and go home for the night, leaving both the bees and the flies a clear and equal opportunity for escape. What will you find when you return in the morning? Both jars empty? Not quite. The jar containing the flies will be empty—and if you happened to leave a half-eaten sandwich sitting on the table, you’ll know just where to find them. The jar containing the bees, however, will be full of dead bees, depleted from lack of food and exhausted from flying repeatedly into the glass walls of the jar. It seems that bees are so highly programmed that they just try the same thing over and over again, while flies exhibit random behavior, which is also programmed but just happens to be more effective in this particular situation.
Now bees are far more highly regarded than flies, and rightly so. Bees make honey; they pollinate plants. They are black and yellow. They are often fuzzy. They are, perhaps most
importantly, busy. Busy as bees. They make a useful contribution to the world. When their numbers deplete, as they have in recent years, we worry and ask why. If flies, on the other hand, suddenly became extinct, the world would probably throw a spontaneous good riddance party. No one likes flies. They are dirty and annoying. They spit on your food and then drink it in liquid form. They spread an alarming spectrum of diseases. While they like to fly around looking just as busy as bees, anyone can see that they’re charlatans. They are just as useless as that guy at work (we all know the type) who is always running around in a froth of activity but never seems to actually achieve anything. (He probably at least refrains from spitting on your lunch.) But why, you wonder, if something has to be genetically programmed to get trapped in a jar and die, should it be the bees?
This illustration alone should convince any careful observer that we are not living in a just world.
But what it also tells me is that you can’t rely on being perfect and industrious and well- regarded. That may work for you the majority of the time—it may serve you well through most of your life. But there’s a good chance you will, at some point, enter a jar you can’t get out of by doing the same old things you’ve always done. Flies are icky and no one likes them, but they are hands-down champions at survival—even if their lifespan is only a few weeks at most. Why? Because they are persistent and random—and they try lots of different things. They stumble upon solutions, upon open windows and exit routes, not because they’re particularly smart or capable but because they just keep flying around like they have no idea what they’re doing.
I suggest introducing more fly-like behavior to your life. I don’t mean that you should approach annoyingly close to anyone’s ear or spit on their food. But why not try things you haven’t tried before? In all areas of your life—in your spiritual life, in your relationship with God, in the way you approach matters of faith.
See what happens. Who knows? You may discover a sliver of a crack in a door that leads you to a whole new room you never dared to imagine.
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This blog is adapted from an editorial original published in the magazine LIFE.info.