©Arlene R. Taylor PhD    www.arlenetaylor.org 

articles200408Because we were jammed together so tightly in the shuttle, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. Back and forth the verbal ping-pong sped until finally, in biting, tight-lipped, clipped phrases these words spilled out into the crowded car: "Oh, just shut up with your new ideas already. That’s the way it’s always been around here and that’s the way it’s going to stay!"

I was truly expecting them to come to blows at any moment and there wasn’t room for blows without some of them falling all over the rest of us passengers. Relieved to be out of there as soon as the doors opened, I headed for my gate and the flight home.

As I settled myself in the window seat, I recalled something that a mathematics professor had shared with me some time ago. The piece was entitled "Primate Committee Thinking Experiment," and it went something like this.

Place five apes in a cage. Hang a banana on a string and put a set of portable stairs under the banana. Before long, an ape will go to the stairs and begin to climb towards the banana. As soon as the ape touches the stairs, spay all the apes with ice cold water. Turn off the water.

After a while, another ape will make an attempt to climb toward the banana. Again, spray all the apes with ice cold water. Turn off the water.

If, later on, a third ape tries to climb the stairs, the others will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them.

Now, remove one ape from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new ape, seeing the banana, goes to the stairs and starts to climb toward the banana. To its horror, all the other apes attack it. After a second attempt and a second attack, the new ape learns that if it tries to climb the stairs, it will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five apes and replace it with a new one. The newcomer heads for the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original ape with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four apes that beat the newcomer have absolutely no idea of the reason they were not permitted to climb the stairs or the reason that they are participating in the beating of the newest ape.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original apes, all the apes that have been sprayed with ice cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no ape ever again approaches the stairs.

The reason? There could be many contributors. Transmitted knowledge. Because that’s the way it’s always been around here mindset. Peer pressure.

Sound familiar? Even when the words are not audible, people’s behaviors often reflect one or more of those perspectives.

How is it in your cage of life?

What’s keeping you away from the stairs?