Last updated on June 2nd, 2023 at 07:49 am
An experimenter puts five monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder. If you haven’t figured it out yet monkeys like bananas. They are very smart creatures even so when around bananas. The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As soon as he does, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.
The Monkey Games Begin!
The monkey on the ladder scrambles off, and all five sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and baffled- absolutely gobsmacked. Soon, though, the temptation of reaching for the bananas is too great, and another monkey tries his luck, climbing the ladder. Again, as you’d expect, the scientist sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. At this point, you probably think that was the last attempt. Well, not if you know this song… “First fool he no be fool, second fool he no be fool, third fool na he be the fool”. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat the heck out of him. I told you monkeys are smart creatures.
The scientist now removes one wet monkey from the cage and a new dry monkey is introduced into the cage. Spotting the bananas, the dry monkey naively begins to climb the ladder, but never reaches the top because the other monkeys pull him off and beat the heck out of him.
Here’s where it gets interesting. A second one of the original wet monkeys is replaced with a new dry monkey. Again, the new monkey proceeds to climb, and the other monkeys pull him off and beat the daylights out of him – including the dry monkey who had never been sprayed! The new monkey learns not to climb the ladder after a number of attempts only to receive several beatings from his fellows.
All the original monkeys had been replaced with new monkeys by the end of the experiment, and yet, despite none of the new monkeys ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.
Fellow humans, if it was possible to ask the new set of monkeys why they would beat up all those who attempted to go for the bananas I bet you, oh I bet you, their answer would be “We don’t know. That’s how things are done around here!”
Does this sound familiar?
This experiment echoes the appeal to tradition since the dawn of our species which can become cancerous to any form of progress in society. We have been both victims and oppressors of its perpetuity. There is good news though! As great hominids we are, we have evolved a unique voice unlike our distant cousins the chimpanzees, who will lift their arms and beat each other to convey a message of distress and subtle hazards. We however find it laughable and unthinkable that we live as such. We need not do the same. All we need to do is turn to our voices. There is no voice without a thought. Yet our voices can oppress or be victimized. The cold water of silence is the culprit here. Silence from speaking out of fear and silence from questioning tradition because of the comfort of other mob members.
Monkey Games in High School
The social inference that applies to us from this experiment is clear. Let’s move from the experiment to reality.
In high school, during inspection time at assembly, you can be confident you will pass the inspection. Your fingernails were well trimmed. Your school uniform was well-ironed. However, your confidence vanishes into thin air like your phone’s data bundle when you hear “Show me your two neatly ironed handkerchiefs”. The prefects continue chanting “Our seniors always inspected our handkerchiefs. That’s how we’ve always done it.” If you couldn’t produce that you were awarded a plot of land to weed. For most students keeping handkerchiefs is drudgery. Their pockets are meant for their wallet and stationery but they grudgingly keep a pair of handkerchiefs to avoid punishment.
One day during assembly our assistant chaplain mounted the podium and barked into the microphone “No gentleman ever goes into public without a pair of neatly ironed handkerchiefs. One handkerchief is meant for your personal use always. You can offer the second handkerchief to a friend or stranger who breaks into tears and may need it. Better still before you sit anywhere, can you use the same handkerchief you wipe your face with to wipe a dirty surface and reuse it on your face?”
How simple! A simple beautiful explanation worth it. No need to subscribe to the monkey games played by the prefects. To date, I never leave my two neatly ironed handkerchiefs at home. I carry it everywhere my shadow can be found.
The Osei and Appiah families
The Osei family and Appiah family were at loggerheads for decades. Every time a new member was born in the Osei family the mantra was chanted “You see the Appiah family, we have nothing in common with them. Never get close to them not even near their shadow. If they ever step on your toes kindly break their legs”. A similar mantra was circulated in the Appiah family against the Osei family.
One day as the youngest Osei who was six years old visited grandma in the village, she asked grandma “Grandma! Grandma! why are we fighting with the Appiah family?”
Grandma replied, “My dear, your grandfather told me his parents warned him not to go near the Appiah family because their great-grandfather told them that his best friend was at loggerheads with the Appiah family…”
Make what you will of Grandma’s comment. The monkey games continue in our time.
No Monkey Games!
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and if I may say comrades, have you acted like one of those monkeys? Do you beat up people because you are following tradition? Do you legislate without understanding the reason for the legislation or probably there is no reason? If you do you might be harming your neighbour. You might even be joining a mob to lynch someone’s brother, sister, husband, or daughter for a tradition you have no foundation to accept as true and perhaps be at loggerheads on behalf of someone.
Doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, or the wrong things for the right reasons, or even doing the right things for the wrong reasons is a recipe for monkey games.
As you leave here today, remember that whatever itch you have been told you cannot scratch take the bold step, and climb up the ladder, who knows? You may find the banana!
And if you have been a wet monkey, instead of beating up dry monkeys, explain to the dry monkeys why and how you got wet. Dialogue is the answer.
No monkey games!