Stories are great teaching tools. Many children’s stories are written to educate as well as entertain.
As we grow, we begin thinking that education is something left to teachers. In reality, stories still teach us our most important lessons. I recently heard the following story about monkeys that caused me to think differently.
Five monkeys are in an enclosed room. Hanging from the ceiling is a bunch of bananas. Under the bananas is a ladder. Eventually, one of the monkeys climbs the ladder to get the bananas. When it gets close, all of the monkeys are hit with a powerful and unpleasant spray of water.
Every time one monkey attempts to get the bananas, all of them are punished. Eventually, they stop trying because they know they will suffer because of the attempt.
Once they learn that lesson, one of the monkeys is replaced by one that doesn’t know about the water. It sees the bananas and tries to get them. The other four monkeys, knowing what will happen, pull the new one off the ladder. The new monkey learns that climbing the ladder causes pain and it stops attempting to get the bananas.
Soon after, another water-fearing monkey is replaced. The new monkey tries to get the bananas. Again, all of the monkeys pull it off the ladder, even the one that never experienced the pain of the water blast.
Eventually, the final monkey that experienced the blast is removed. The new monkey comes in and tries to get the bananas only to have the other four pull it down, not because they know the danger, but because that’s what they’ve always done.
How often do we make decisions based upon what has always been done? How often do we fail to question those who have more experience?
Sometimes, experience is the reinforcement of bad ideas, much like monkeys not eating bananas that are there for the taking. There are times, however, when experience saves you from making mistakes.
Let’s change the experiment slightly. Instead of a water blast, let’s say the bananas are a variety that makes monkeys sick. Each monkey learns that the bananas are dangerous. As others come in, they share that lesson. Eventually, all monkeys know the bananas shouldn’t be eaten, even if they haven’t eaten them.
How can you tell if you’re a monkey avoiding bananas because they’ll make you sick or if you’re a monkey who won’t eat bananas because of a fear of a water blast that no longer exists?
The lesson is to always question. Don’t be afraid to let the answer affect your actions. If you’re told they’re poisonous but still are not sure, find some way to test the accuracy of that claim.
The greatest changes in history have come because people questioned the rules. During the Civil War, doctors never washed their hands before surgery. They felt it wasted time. That changed when one person tried washing his hands and learned that fewer patients died as a result.
In baseball, people insisted umpires’ mistakes were part of what made the game great. This year, for the first time, managers will be able to challenge umpires’ rulings because fans saw that mistakes by umpires prevented their team from winning.
The only thing constant in life is change. Today’s dangers could be tomorrow’s pleasures. Don’t be afraid of questioning, even something like a banana. Sometimes, if you give them a chance, you’ll learn they’re delicious.