The way it’s been done…

Originally published in 2007 in the Dickinson County News

I’m going to tell you a story about five monkeys. If you enjoy monkeys and their habits – that’s great. If not, bear with me. There’s a point.

We start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the center of the cage, we hang a bundle of bananas on a string and place a set of stairs beneath the bundle.

It doesn’t take long before the monkeys notice the bananas and approach the stairs. But, as soon as one of the monkeys approaches the stairs, the other four monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a bit, another monkey makes an attempt to snatch the bundle of bananas with the same result. The four other caged monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, all the other monkeys try to prevent it.

Now, we put away the cold water.

We remove one monkey from the cage and replace him with a new one.

The newcomer sees the bananas and moves toward the stairs. He is surprised and terrified when all of the other monkeys attack him. He tries again, but soon learns that his attempts to climb stairs result in attacks from the other monkeys.

Next, we remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with another new one. He goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Then we replace a third original monkey with a new one, then the fourth and fifth. Each time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the remaining monkeys have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs themselves – or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of them have ever experienced being sprayed with the cold water.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the starts to try for the banana.

Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

Sure, this is an oversimplified example of what happens when we don’t question the whys of our situation. But the point is no less valid for us than for the monkeys who are missing out on bananas.

Sometimes questioning “the way it’s always been done” can give you a career boost. It can bring new life to a project everyone thought was dead. It can spark a friendship with someone you didn’t think was your type.

Lucky for us, unlike the primitive primates, we are able to communicate with one another about why things are done. I challenge you to ask “why” a little more often. You run the risk of getting attacked. But there might also be some tasty bananas up those stairs …