Apr 032012

La Paz, Bolivia.

Thou shalt not sing in public.

A while ago I heard about a fascinating experiment.

A bunch of monkeys was put into an enclosement. They were fed regularly, albeit with boring food. In the enclosure was also a very appetizing banana. The problem was, if one of the monkeys tried to go for the banana it would get a big electric shock. The monkeys very quickly learned not to go for the banana.

So far so good.

Then the researchers took one monkey out and put another in. That one obviously didn’t know about getting shocked when going for the banana, so it immediately ran towards it. Monkeys are smart and social, so the other monkeys stopped the newest monkey from going for the banana.

Nice monkeys!

One by one they kept replacing the monkeys by ones who didn’t know about the shocking-banana-treat. And every one of them was stopped from going for the banana.

At some point there were no more of the original monkeys left, all replaced by “new” monkeys, who had never been actually shocked.

At that point the researchers switched the electricity off. And took out another monkey and put a new one in.

History repeats. The older monkeys stopped the new monkey from going for the banana.

The point here is of course, the monkeys didn’t know why they had to stop the newest addition from going for the banana. They had never been shocked, as they had been stopped by monkeys before them that had been shocked. Part of the cultural rules of the troupe was don’t let anybody get to the banana. No questions, it was just the way things are.

And none thought to question this at any time. They wouldn’t find out that the banana was actually safe to reach now.

Poor monkeys.

Luckily humans are much smarter than monkeys.


Don’t stand out too much.
You have to avoid hurting people’s feelings.
You must be happy all the time.
Don’t sing in public.

Well, guess what?

Nothing bad happens if you break the unwritten rules. There is no one to enforce them. You do not get an electric shock!

It’s perfectly fine to stand out, to be special. The important people accept.

It’s a good thing to stand up for yourself, even if it were easier for the other person if you just did what they wanted.

You can be unhappy and share that and others will still like you.

It’s lovely to sing in the streets!

I’m having a lot of fun (and a bit of anxiety) breaking the unwritten rules. And it feels like such a liberation! Perhaps you should try it too?

And if you happen to run into someone who’s singing Jingle Bells in the height of summer, don’t hesitate to say hi to me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4 Responses to “Breaking the rules”

  1. Monkeys can’t say hi
    They just want bananas

  2. Ja is een vet experiment inderdaad! ik weet eigenlijk niet helemaal zeker of het ook echt heeft plaatsgevonden overigens ๐Ÿ™‚
    Ik herrinner me een moment (met niet nader te noemen personen :)) waar in een afgelegen gebied een vervallen bordje wat suggereerde dat je niet door mocht lopen genoeg was om iedereen geen stap verder te doen zetten (totdat je het doet en er geen enkel probleem blijkt te zijn!)

  3. Hooray for the internet: it is apparantly not a ‘true’ story, but a thought experiment by one Michael Michalko (who claims to be a ‘creativity expert’ whatever that may be :)) in his book thinkertoys.
    more thought experiments of this man: http://creativethinking.net/WP07_ThoughtExperiments.htm

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