Start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey will make an attempt with the same response - all of the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Keep this up for several days. Turn off the cold water. If, later, another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them. Now, remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Replace the third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.
“Because that’s the way it’s always been done around here.”
I find the story very amusing. But it also has a message. In this post, I’d like explain what is it. Why?
“Because that’s the way it’s always been done around here.” :D
First thing I’d like to do is clear what I’m going to be talking about here. I’m going to talk about “reason for something”. But when we talk about reason, we also need to identify some other things. The other things are task and action. A task is something that can be completed by doing some action. It is an objective. Finally, action is… well, action. These three things are always there in every sensible human activity.
Now, let’s look at the story above. The action of the monkeys that were in the cage first, had a task and a reason. Action was “beating up the monkey that goes near the stairs”. Task was “Keep the monkey from touching the stairs”. Reason behind the task was, “It is better to beat up one monkey because of his action, rather than all monkeys get sprayed by cold water because of the action of a single monkey.”
So, as the story progresses, and when all the monkeys are replaced, what happens? Action stays the same, task is also the same, but the reason is lost. The action accomplishes the task. Beating up a monkey who goes near the stairs is an effective way of teaching it not to touch the stairs. However that task has no reason. Not a single monkey knows why are they doing it! However, in the beginning, the task did have a reason. Without that reason, the task wouldn’t exist and in turn, the action would never be carried out. But now, the task has lost the reason for it’s existence. Such a task should not exist. Yet it lingers in the mind of the monkeys. So when they do something without any reason, we as humans, find this absurd.
From this, we can learn 2 things:
- Task can not come into existence without reason. Reason always precedes the task or objective.
- A task without reason is absurd.
We can understand why a task can not come into existence without reason. It is because it has no reason to exist! However, some tasks remain in existence even after their reason is lost. We find those tasks absurd. What is it that makes us think that it is absurd? It is lack of reason. Then it must mean that we humans value reason very highly. If it is so important to us, we must understand it. Let us try to find out the characteristics of “Reason”.
We looked at the absence of reason and found it absurd. But, in the beginning we didn’t find it absurd. When the monkeys did have a reason for their action, it wasn’t absurd. Let me give you a little inside scoop. In the cage, there was a very old and wise monkey. He thought out this plan about beating up the monkey who goes near the stairs. But because he was old, he alone couldn’t do it. So he had to convince those “flashy and cool” youngsters about his plan. He had the near impossible task of getting the attention of the youngsters who possessed the attention span of the flying spaghetti monster(that’s very little even by the monkey standards). But because he had reason, he did it. He convinced them about the plan. He was successfully carry out his plan because he had a very good reason. Because, presence of reason gives some credit or merit to the action being carried out. What does it tell us? It tells us that because presence of reason gives merit to the task, it also brings compliance.
Hmmm… because reason gives merit to the action, it brings compliance. But, when reason is absent, the action is absurd. Where does this absurdity lead to? I think it leads to rebellion. We as humans don’t like doing absurd things. Let me give you an example. Go to a shop, buy a bag of milk, tea and sugar. Come back home, do the ritual that people do to prepare a good tea. When it is ready, take that tea and flush it down the toilet. If I told you to do that, would you do it? Your answer proves my point. We do not like to do things that are absurd. Tasks that do not have any reason. So, the absence of reason leads to rebellion.
But you know what, I can give you a reason for doing those things that I told you. I LOVE to annoy people. If you do that, you will be annoyed! I will LOVE it. There, you have your reason! Now, obey me! Would you? No you won’t. If I were in your place, I’d slap some sense into my head(I feel pretty comfortable saying this because I know that slaps can not be transferred over TCP/IP). But that leads me to conclude that an absurd reason can not give any merit to an absurd action. In the last statement, there are two things to learn. Let us look at them one by one.
The first thing is this: For the reason to be present, it must be good. A bad reason is no reason at all. In the previous paragraph I gave a very absurd reason for a very absurd task. Can we call it a reason? Well, in theory, yes. But, practically, it is no reason at all. Let me give you a little more practical example to illustrate the point:
Let us say, 2 students are doing math in their notebook. You go and ask them, why are they doing maths? Suppose, they give you following answers:
- I want to be an engineer. Engineers need to be good at maths.
- I want to finish the refill in my pen so that I can get a new one and then finish that one to get a new one. The only reason I do math is because I want to finish refills!
The first reason is a very good reason. The second, is absurd. If I ask you to go and find a student who does math because he wants to finish refills in his pen, will you able to find one? No you won’t find any such student. Because, it is a very bad reason for doing math. For all practical purposes, the reason must be good.
That leads to my second point. It is this: The reason gives justification to the task. It gives merit to the task and in turn to the action. Beating up a fellow monkey is not a good thing to do. But in the story, the reason gives that same action some merit. Because it serves a greater purpose. The punishment of the single monkey is good because it leads to the greater good of the monkey society in the cage!
Before I move on, I’d like to summarize some points:
- Presence of reason leads to compliance
- Absence of reason leads to rebellion
- For a reason to be present, it must be good. A bad reason is no reason at all.
- The reason justifies things.
Now that we’ve got all the points up close, it leads me to believe that the reason for the first two points is the last two points! I don’t know if you understand, but if you look closely, you will see that reason is inherently good! As I have discussed earlier, we as human beings want to pursue good things. And because any practical reason is inherently good, we comply with anyone who has reason and rebel against them who have no reason. Most of the time, in our mind, we take people who can provide a reason as “good people” and that do not provide reason as “bad people”. Even if we do not think that way, we still follow them because they have a good reason. We tell to ourselves I’m not following the person, I’m following a good cause. It is because reason is inherently good.
I’ll give you an example of our presumptions. A great example is atheism. It claims to be very reasonable, asks for evidence and does all the right things. That’s why it attracts many people. I’m not saying that atheists are bad people, I’m just illustrating the fact that reason has the power to justify things. These things can be actions, beliefs or even life. However, the problem with atheism is, it assumes too many things that can not be assumed without the existence of God. A classic example of their presumptions is, “Moral Progress”. If you don’t know what it is, go ask “The Great Googles” for help. Because it is not my topic for today.
Hmmm… in the last paragraph we saw why atheism is so successful. It is successful because it claims to be reasonable. But because reason is inherently good, it attracts people. That leads me to conclude : Reason has the power to shape cultures. However, cultures are not shaped in an instant. It requires a lot of time and perseverance. Perseverance doesn’t come by pure chance, it requires motivation. Reason can also provide that motivation because it is good and we are human.
Now that we’ve gone through the characteristics of reason, I want to come to my last point. It is the reason for me writing this long post on importance of reason. It is this: Reason has the power to save a generation. Do you know with what a today’s youngsters struggle with most? They are seeking the reason for their existence. They do not care much about where they came from, because it doesn’t matter in the present. In the present, they just are. Because, they are, they ask the question why we are? Why am I here? That is the question they struggle with. If they just know the reason, they will figure out what to do. They are smart. But they do not know the reason. As we saw earlier, reason gives justification. Because they don’t know the reason, they don’t have a justification for their life. They do not know if there is any value to life at all. Something in their heart tells them, there must be some value to this life, there must be a reason. So they start searching for answers.
They go on looking for answers in the world around them. Some search for reason in the media and the TV programs that they see. But all it does is, tell stories. It does not give a meaning to their existence. Some go looking for meaning in relations. But relationships only bring mischief in their life. Some go on looking for love, but find only sweet talk and pretense. Some go to science. But it can not give a meaning. Some turn to philosophies. But most of today’s philosophies does not give meaning to life at all. They claim that there is no meaning. After they’ve done their best to find meaning, and still don’t find it, they either accept that there is no meaning and loose all sense of self-worth, right and wrong and end up becoming a creature of feelings or get attracted by the philosophies that claim to give meaning but in fact, are just greedy confused people preying on the deep longings of the human heart. They never claim to give meaning, all they claim to do is show the right way. But then they say you must find your own way!
The tragedy is that youngsters start believing in complete nonsense because they are bombarded with so much information every day that they have lost the ability to stop and think about the things that their minds are consuming. Because before they can stop and think, there are 10 more things that demand their attention. Technology is not helping. Because they don’t think, they have lost the ability to reason and end up believing in complete contradictions without ever noticing it. That is the tragedy of our generation. Either “life has no meaning” or “a world which gives meaning to their own existence but is nothing more than a fairy tale”. That is the tragedy of this generation. That is why it needs saving.
However, the picture is not completely bleak. Some youngsters do find a church. BUT(and that’s a big but), when they come into the church, what will happen if all they find is religion and traditions without a reason behind it. What if when the young minds out of curiosity ask, “why is it so?” the answer is given like: “Because that’s the way it’s always been done around here”. What I want to say is this: the church needs to have a reason for everything it does(CORRECTION: not for everything. I enjoy random nonsense! I find books on new age spirituality to be very funny!).
The church needs to inspect every activity it does to see if there is a reason behind that activity. If there is none, then it needs to be thrown out. If there is a reason but obsolete, then we need a version 2.0 of that activity or tradition. If we do not do that, then like the actions of the monkeys in the cage, we also will become absurd. This is not to say that I’m against traditions, I’m very much for it. I think traditions are to society what proper ornaments are to human body or what proper decorations are to buildings. Traditions make the cultures and societies beautiful. They unite us and remind us. Helps us reflect on the past. I know it to be very useful. However, when those traditions are not understood to the core, we end up becoming mindless monkeys. That has to stop.
Secondly comes the religion. “Religion” word is kind of very generic. I’d like to use a more specific word. Christianity. Why does christianity exist? The reason is Christ. Who he was, what he taught and what he did for us is the basis of christianity. So if any church loses it’s focus from Christ, and follows anything else, they are same as those monkeys in the cage that beat up their fellow for no reason.
To save this generation, we need to provide them with a reason. We need to make them understand how precious they are. But before we can do that, we need to grab hold of the reason of our existence. We need to grab hold of Christ. He is the reason why we exist. He is the reason of why we are, who we are. He is the reason why we have any value at all. He is the reason why we should do what is right. He is the reason why we need to save this generation. When we follow him, he is the one who compels us to extend our arms to the needy. He is the one who motivates us to go on when there are struggles in our life. He is the one who provides us with strength to overcome the struggles. And when we finish the task set before us, he is our reward.