God's Word for today

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Some random thoughts on "tall poppy syndrome"

I was chatting to some friends a few days ago and the subject of "tall poppy syndrome" came up. No doubt there's a more scientific definition around, but my own understanding of this phenomenon is when, in a group dynamic, one person tries to rise above the norm and do something different, only to be pulled down by the rest of the group.

One sees this phenomenon throughout society - even in the Church. I experienced this first-hand at Synod last year, where I was criticised for even daring to stand up and say something because I was "only a Phase One". Readers of this blog will know that I don't subscribe to this theory, and in fact see it as one of my quests in life to break down "tall poppy syndrome" wherever it manifests itself - people should be given the opportunity to think and act independently without fear or favour, should they choose to do so.

But what actually causes this phenomenon? The answer well may lie in this interesting story that I found on a blog entitled geekrebel's posterous:

There was an experiment involving 5 monkeys, a cage, a banana, a ladder and, crucially, a water hose.

The 5 monkeys were locked in a cage, after which a banana was hung from the ceiling with a ladder placed right underneath it.

Of course, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder, intending to climb it and grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the sadist (euphemistically called “scientist”) would spray the monkey with ice-cold water. In addition, however, he would also spray the other four monkeys…

When a second monkey was about to climb the ladder, the scientist would again spray all the monkeys; likewise for the third climber and, if they were particularly persistent (or dumb), the fourth one. Then they would have learned their lesson: they were not going to climb the ladder again – banana or no banana.

The scientist would then replace one of the monkeys with a new one. The new guy would spot the banana, think “why don’t these idiots go get it?!” and start climbing the ladder. Then, however, it got interesting: the other four monkeys, familiar with the cold-water treatment, would run towards the new guy and beat him up. The new guy, blissfully unaware of the cold-water history, would get the message: no climbing up the ladder in this cage – banana or no banana.

When the beast outside the cage would replace a second monkey with a new one, the events would repeat themselves – with one notable detail: the first new monkey, who had never received the cold-water treatment himself (and didn’t even know anything about it), would, with equal vigour and enthusiasm, join in the beating of the new guy on the block.

The researcher kept replacing monkeys until eventually all the monkeys had been replaced and none of the ones in the cage had any experience or knowledge of the cold-water treatment.

Then, a new monkey was introduced into the cage. It ran toward the ladder only to get beaten up by the others. None of these monkeys had ever been sprayed by cold water.

Could it be that groups have slapped individuals down so much in the past that people are now too scared to stand up anymore? That individual actions are seen always as being to the detriment of the group, rather than potentially to the group's benefit? Surely this can't be what ubuntu is meant to be? What do you think?

1 comment:

Jenny Hillebrand said...

I like the monkey story. Of course, it might have been an exploding banana which would have wiped out the whole population. No, but seriously, an interesting story.