A scientist put five monkeys in a cage. On top of the cage, he placed a banana. Of course, the monkeys all started trying to climb to the top of the cage, fighting each other for the banana. One of the monkeys got to the banana, and as he picked it up, the scientist turned a hose on him, spraying him with cold water.
Not only was the "winner" who grabbed the banana soaked, but also all of the other monkeys in the cage, too.
They were not happy. Again and again, whenever any monkey went for the banana, all of the monkeys got wet. Soon, if one monkey started climbing, the others started pulling him back, even hitting him. They didn't want to get soaked again with cold water. After a while, none of the monkeys tried to get the banana. They had learned their lesson. Then the scientist tried something unexpected.
He removed one of the monkeys from the cage and replaced it with a new monkey. This monkey knew nothing about the cold water, so he started climbing. Immediately, all four of the original monkeys jumped on him to prevent him from reaching the banana. He learned that the banana was off-limits. One by one, the scientist replaced the "trained" monkeys who had once felt the cold water with new monkeys.
Upon each new monkey's arrival, the group quickly taught him that there was no way he should go for that banana. He learned that lesson and accepted it, though he never knew why. After five days, none of the original monkeys remained in the cage— they'd all been replaced with the "new" monkeys.
Even though the new monkeys had never been sprayed by the cold water, none of them tried to reach the banana, and they were all determined to fight anyone who tried.
What a great parable for the way in which learned behaviors become ingrained and inherited. People just keep enforcing the status quo, even though no one knows why, or for that matter, if it's the best way to do things. Unfortunately, our whole lives we are taught to conform.
We begin by scribbling with crayons, but we learn very quickly to color within the lines. We stop challenging assumptions and convey our questions or concerns from the safe position of "devil's advocate," which protects us from having to express the kind of real disagreement or passionate dissent that ignites transformative thinking. Often, we are unaware that we are conforming: it's our home base, our default mode. It makes us feel safe."