By now I have to assume that you have seen some version of the “story” about the monkeys in the experiment with the ladder, ice cold water and the self policing they do. It goes something like this:
“They start with a room containing five monkeys. Inside the room, they hung a banana on a string with a ladder placed under it. Before long, a monkey went to the ladder and started to climb towards the banana. As soon as he started up, those running the experiment sprayed all of the other monkeys with ice cold water.
After a while, another monkey made an attempt to obtain the banana. As soon as his foot touched the stairs, all of the other monkeys were sprayed with ice cold water. It’s wasn’t long before all of the other monkeys would physically prevent any monkey from climbing the stairs.
Now, the people shut off the cold water, removed one monkey from the cage and replaced it with a new one. The new monkey saw the banana and started to climb the ladder. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attacked him. After another attempt and attack, he discovered that if he tried to climb the ladder, he would be assaulted.
Next they removed another of the original five monkeys and replaced it with a new one. The newcomer went to the ladder and was attacked. The previous newcomer took part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, they replaced a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey tried to climb the ladder, he was attacked.
The monkeys who were not in the original 5 had no idea why they were not permitted to climb the ladder or why they were beating any monkey that tried. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys had ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approached the ladder to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.”
So, whether the story is true or not it has made its way around the internet and it’s got people talking about how we behave in society, our workplaces and our culture. Many comments follow the story confirming that people behave the same way.
What I wondered about though, was changing the story. What would have happened if monkey number 5 had chosen to conduct an experiment of his own with a positive experience rather than a negative one. Number 5 has witnessed the original incident with the ice water but he has also witnessed 4 new monkeys make an attempt but never be allowed to try due to an attack.
What if, number 5 had convinced the 4 monkeys to form a tower of monkeys standing on each others shoulders to reach the bananas?
In our society we do find ourselves coming into situations where human behaviors puzzle us. We think, there has to be a reason why they behave this way and sometimes we do not challenge that norm but accept it despite our better judgement. Even though we may be suspicious of the situation it often feels like too much effort to stand up for what seems wrong.
There are people who are so accustomed to their way that they will actually continue to fight from their perspective because eventually everyone just gives in. Sometimes they even think that they are doing the right thing.
I think we need to use different tools for working together so that we can confidently stand up and say “Listen folks, I think we all agree those bananas look mighty tasty. Let’s work together to get those bananas in a way that works for all of us. After all, we aren’t monkeys, we have the ability to talk to each other and work through our problems together.”
One of the reasons I write this blog is I like to think that I would take a different action as monkey number 5, choosing not to pass on my generational garbage, just because.
What technique do you use as Monkey Number 5?