Improve Your Life

Think for Yourself or You Might as Well Be a Monkey In a Cage

1 Comment 05 April 2012

Editor’s Note: This a guest post by my good friend who never ceases to amaze me, Stephen McCumber

This all started as a Facebook post.

I tend to draw intersecting lines between things that don’t normally intersect. For instance, the sister of one of my exes had me listen to a Lady Gaga song, and it immediately made me think of an older Eddie Murphy song about putting stuff in your butt. Maybe it’s the way my brain works but you say banana I think theoretical physics. You say liquid I think Bose-Einstein condensates. Jen posts a quote on Facebook and I immediately think “that reminds me of sociological experimentation.”

Steve Pavlina facebook status This experiment is real. 5 monkeys are locked in a cage, a banana was hung from the ceiling and a ladder was placed right underneath it. As predicted, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder to grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the researcher would spray the monkey with ice-cold water. But here’s the kicker – In addition, he would also spray the other four monkeys. When a second monkey tried to climb the ladder, the researcher would, again, spray the monkey with ice-cold water, as well as the other four watching monkeys; This was repeated again and again until they learned their lesson: Climbing equals scary cold water for EVERYONE, so no one is allowed to climb the ladder.

Once the 5 monkeys knew the drill, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a new inexperienced one. As predicted, the new monkey spots the banana, and goes for the ladder. BUT, the other four monkeys, knowing the drill, jumped on the new monkey and beat him up. The beat up new guy thus learns – NO going for the ladder and no banana, period – without even knowing why, and without ever being sprayed with water. These actions get repeated 3 more times, with a new monkey each time and amazingly each new monkey – who had never received the cold water spray, would join in beating up of the new guy. When the researcher replaced a third monkey, the same thing happened; likewise for the fourth until, eventually, all the monkeys had been replaced and none of the original ones are left in the cage.

Again, a new monkey was introduced into the cage. It ran toward the ladder only to get beaten up by the others. The monkey turns with a curious face asking “why do you beat me up when I try to get the banana?” The other four monkeys stopped and looked at each other puzzled (None of them had been sprayed and so they really had no clue why the new guy can’t get the banana) but it didn’t matter, it was too late, the rules had been set. And so, although they didn’t know WHY, they beat up the monkey just because “that’s the way we do things around here.”

There is another experiment I won’t go too much into detail about, but it’s called “The Milgram Experiment.” Basically a paid volunteer was told by a doctor to administer an electric shock to a person they couldn’t see when that person answered a question incorrectly (no one was actually shocked, it was just an actor). Each incorrect answer and the voltage went up 15 volts. The actor would then react over speaker to the shock. 65% of the people who did the experiment eventually “killed” their actor because the doctor urged them to do so.

This resonates to me because it seems, more and more, that this is the way humans work. We live in a paradigm we didn’t create and do things we hate because a person in power tells us to. How much of our lives have we lived in this semi “programed” state? Do we only follow laws because a person in power tells us to? There are a lot of controversial topics this could apply to. I’m not going to talk about those cause that’s a sure fire way to piss a lot of people off, but look at a smaller scale, our everyday lives.

Now, just so we’re clear, I’m not one of those people who talks about how everyone is “sheep” or that “we all follow this herd mentality” but there is some truth to that. How much of our own world did we create? Everyone, myself included, needs to reassess the world. Look at different ways to do things and try to open our minds to new and different possibilities. To use my life as a prime example, I came from a family of overweight and picky eaters. I am 27 and just this year had my first taste of sushi. It took me weeks to get up the courage to eat Greek food. I have still never eaten Indian food. My diet consisted of either fast food or the food that poor single mothers feed kids; mac & cheese, hot dogs, fish sticks, oven baked frozen fries, etc…

Pause a minute in your everyday life and think of all the things you’ve never done or always do because that’s just how you’ve always lived your life, that’s how you were raised. That’s how society does it. That’s how your friends, or your parents, or your wife/husband does it. We as individuals need to expand our minds, shift our own paradigms and the more of us who are willing to do this, the more we as a society will change. It’s a group effort but honestly it starts at the individual level. No witty metaphors, no similes or fancy wordsmithing. Just do it. Get past your basic programming and look at everything in a different light. You might be surprised at what you find. I know I have been.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.


  1. Musings About Gender From the Shower | MsMorphosis - May 15, 2012

    [...] interesting, friends is a guy named Stephen McCumber. He’s written for both MsMorphosis and Blogging Fearlessly, because he’s one of the only people that knows he can write for me anytime an idea comes [...]

Share your view

Post a comment

CommentLuv badge


Jen, MsMorphosis herself, writes with a wisdom that belies her age (astoundingly only 25) and speaks from a place that seems like you’re listening to your big sister, or a dear friend that you’ve never met. For me, the connection was instant, and the material has always been almost so personally intertwined and touching that I feel like the singer-story-teller in the song, ‘Killing Me Softly.’ — Sheanna Caban