Beware of the “Lessons” You Already Learned

Beware of the “Lessons” You Already Learned
Beware of the “Lessons” You Already Learned

We live in a society of knowledge. Knowledge is the fundamental key to hold the power of  the things that surround us. Without knowledge, we are not able to access many activities that we take for granted, such as driving a car or communicating through a smartphone.
Knowledge is everywhere. It is inside us and it regulates, partially, what we do and don’t do. But not all knowledge we have is true and useful. Some of that knowledge are “lessons” that aren’t in our best interest. We, as individuals or society, sometimes learn“lessons” that aren’t good for us.

Let me tell you, dear reader, two stories. The first is about society,  metaphorically. It was told to me as being a true story but I don’t really know. However, it doesn’t matter for the purpose of this article.

Once upon a time (sorry, I can’t resist starting as fairy tale :)) there were five monkeys in a cage. After a while, a bunch of bananas was put on the of ceiling of the cage. A monkey climbed the cage and took it. Almost immediately, the other four monkeys were punished by a human with a water-jet. When the bananas were all eaten, another bunch was put on the ceiling. A monkey went there to pick it and the other four monkeys were once again punished. After a few more bunches of bananas, the other four monkeys began beating up the one who went for the bunch of bananas. It made a lot of sense because the other four monkeys didn’t want to be punished by the acts of the fifth monkey.

After a while, none of the five monkeys went to catch the bunch of bananas in the ceiling. They were afraid of being beaten by the other monkeys.When that happened, the original five monkeys started to be substituted one by one. Of course, the new monkey always went to the bunch of bananas. And, of course, that new monkey would be beaten up by the other four monkeys. After the new monkey learned his punitive “lesson”, one of original monkeys was substituted and so on.
The real interesting part of the story happens when all the originals five monkeys are gone. The new monkeys beat any other monkey that goes for the bunch of bananas, even though they are never punished by a water-jet.

Unfortunately, this story is a good metaphor for how the society and social groups work in general. Mostly one just keeps doing stuff because that is the way things are and were always done in the past, even though no one remembers how it started to be that way.

quote by Pema Chödrön. Image by Dinis Guarda
quote by Pema Chödrön. Image by Dinis Guarda

A certain degree of what I call the process of “automatic pilot” is inevitable. But there are always certain groups of people that keep asking questions such as “why do we do this this way ? ”. Sometimes, people who make those kinds of questions are a bit annoying. But we have to recognize they are useful for us in the long run. At least, it is convenient to ask ourselves and others if the “lessons” we know are true, up to date and useful.

The first story explains a lot how society works. However, it isn’t the whole story. We all know how the horrendous can be justified as being unavoidable,with arguments such as that it is in the best interest of society. Take the case, of wars, bombardments, or slavery, a few centuries ago.

The reader perhaps is thinking how can someone argue that slavery is good for the slaves. Its understandable to say that slavery is in the best interest of the slaver, even though it is not right. A quite common argument a few centuries ago was that it was good for the soul of the slaves. By another words, since the one to become a future slave wasn’t christian, muslin or whatever, when put into slavery, in order to do as we order, his soul would be rewarded in the afterlife.

The second story I would like to tell you explains a lot how we function as individuals. I had a sudden epiphany when watching a TV documentary about the circus, where at a certain point the interviewer asked a member of the circus crew how a small wood stake spiked onto the ground could imprison elephants, weighting many hundreds of kilos. The interviewee answer was ridiculous – the elephants, he said, could easily escape.

The interviewee continued explaining that the same sort of wood stacks had been used when they were newborns. The first times they were imprisoned with a wood stack they used to try to take it off the ground without success. After a while, they stopped trying and got used to it.

Well, I think this sad story is a good metaphor of the relationship we have, as individuals towards some rules of society. I am not saying it explains everything. However, it explains a lot. As individuals, we are doing (or not doing) stuff because we were “trained” to proceed in a certain way. We feel safer by respecting the “training” we had in the past. But just to follow our training, doesn’t allow us to reach the potential life has on hold for us.

Sometimes, the “bars” that hold us back, as individuals and society, are just “smoke” in our minds. If we “touch” the “bars” (with thoughts and actions) we see that some of them are just “thin stacks of wood spiked unto a ground of sand”. The sand of our minds.

Touch the “bars”.