Another fruitless day locked in a room with five neurotic monkeys


I once read about five monkeys that were placed in a room with a banana at the top of a set of stairs. As one monkey attempted to climb the stairs, all of the monkeys were sprayed with jets of cold water. A second monkey made an attempt and again the monkeys were sprayed. No more monkeys attempted to climb the stairs. One of the monkeys was then removed from the room and replaced with a new monkey. New monkey saw the banana and started to climb the stairs but to its surprise, it was attacked by the other monkeys. Another of the original monkeys was replaced and the newcomer was also attacked when he attempted to climb the stairs. The previous newcomer took part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Replacing a third original monkey with a new one, it headed for the stairs and was attacked as well. Half of the monkeys that attacked him had no idea why. After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, none had ever been sprayed with cold water but all stayed the fuck away from the stairs.

Being here longer than me doesn’t automatically make your adherence to a rule, or the rule itself, right. It makes you the fifth replacement monkey. The one with the weird red arse and the first to point and screech when anyone approaches the stairs. I would be the sixth monkey, at home in bed trying to come up with a viable excuse not to spend another fruitless day locked in a room with five neurotic monkeys.

This is from 27bslash6: A blog by a designer called David Thorne

What if we were all newcomer monkeys just living out practises that we’d learnt through observation, but didn’t know why. What if this was the only reason why we work in small cubes plugged into screens for most of the best part of the day, then getting married, having children, working to pay for them, retiring and dying. Everyone’s heard the story of the young woman who made a roast chicken ‘wrongly’ once, but if you haven’t, here’s a poor recounting of it (with artistic license):

It’s Sunday, which makes it Roast day, and today we were roasting a chicken. But before I get to that, let me also tell you what other kind of day Sunday is, it’s ballet day for the girls, it’s laundry, vacuum, and both the bathrooms day. So I’m pretty frazzled when I get back from ferrying the girls to class, and get down to the cold and pimply bird I’m about the man-handle and cook. And I realised that I’ve made a mistake. I forgot to ask the butcher to chop of half of the chicken’s legs, which is what I always do, and my mother always does, and her mother did as well. Roast day was ruined. But there was no time to cry into the potato peels and onion skins, so I thought sod it, I’ll just roast it as is, legs and all. But Mum was coming over, and she would surely just use this as another reason to judge, because not only was the roast wrong, it was both the bathrooms Sunday, and neither bathrooms were clean. Sometimes both the bathrooms Sunday becomes One Bathroom Monday, and The Other Bathroom Wednesday. Sometimes even, it becomes Maybe You Should Do it This Time Thursdays, but that’s another story. To cut this story short, I cooked the damn bird as it had come, and when I served it up, there was definitely a quick intake of breath from Mum. But she turned around and said ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you! I did the exact same thing almost 10 years ago, but I was mortified and confessed it to Grandma. You know what she said? She said that the only reason why she cut off the legs of the chicken was because her favourite roasting tin was too small to fit the whole chicken in. Nothing to do with the recipe or taste of the dish.’

So there you go, I’m sure you’d heard the story above before, but it just brings home the point, we sometimes just mimic learnt behaviour. So what if it is all learnt behaviour? We should definitely be asking Why? more often, and by all means if you like the scenario above, go ahead with it. There is something very beautiful about finding a partner and making a lovely life together, but you owe it to yourself to be mindful and aware that this is a conscious decision you’re making. For me? I am going to keep asking Why? for a little longer. I feel it in my bones that there is something else I should be doing in this life, but I’m definitely enjoying the experiment of finding out what that is.

Image copywright: The GoldenScope


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