An Interesting Psychology Experiment

Monkeys

Have you heard the story about the psychology experiment? Here’s how it goes:

You start with a cage containing four monkeys. Inside the cage you hang a banana on a string. Then you place a set of stairs under the banana. Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the dickens out of 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 four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm – because he is now part of the “team.”

Then replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

In every case, the experienced monkeys that are beating up the new monkey have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana. Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!

The original version of this story goes on to make application by suggesting that “monkeys” holding certain elected offices in governmental circles should all be replaced at the same time. It goes on to say that this suggestion is meant to show no disrespect to monkeys.

I’ll suggest another application, albeit a fairly obvious one. In circles other than governmental ones, the same phenomenon sometimes occurs. In families, schools, churches, community organizations, neighborhoods, civic clubs, social groups, and almost any other collection of people one can imagine, traditions abound.

We often don’t know the source of traditions we follow. We simply follow them. Why? Because they are traditions. We’ve always done things that way.

Most folks my age, and many folks even younger than I, are pretty cotton pickin’ traditional. Yet unless breaking a tradition requires violating biblical, moral, legal, or ethical principles, a tradition might well be replaced by a new practice that better accomplishes the organization’s purposes or objectives.

You might want to remember this story next time you come across a tradition that seems to have no intrinsic value or detracts from the mission you and your group are trying to achieve.

During his earthly life, Jesus broke many traditions. And on a topic far more important than earthly traditions, he said: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5)

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Elections

votingThe topic of elections is one I never thought would be as significant in my life as it has become. Little did I know while growing up that elections would direct the course of my life and career.

Some elections occurred early, including leadership roles in Future Farmers of America, Walther League, Gamma Delta, Phi Eta Sigma, and Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. Those were religious, extracurricular, and academic organizations of my high school and college years. It wasn’t until I entered pastoral ministry that elections impacted my professional career.

There were elections by voters’ assemblies of congregations extending calls for me to be their pastor. I accepted two and declined many others. There was an election by a mission board to be a mission developer and another by a different board of directors to serve as a leader of Lutheran Foundation of Texas. A more recent election by the current board of that organization means I’ll begin serving next month in the same role I occupied 25 years ago.

On a broader scale, there were four elections to the office of district president of our statewide church in Texas by 600 delegates at each election, followed by three elections to the office of national church president by 1200 delegates at each election. The fourth election to that office turned out to be an un-election, which was an invitation for me to leave that office.

Sadly, that last election was characterized by organized negative publicity that included rumors, mischaracterizations, half-truths, and downright lies. Nothing is more disappointing than witnessing a group of people, sacred or secular, conducting pre-election campaigning against honorable men or women willing to serve to the best of their ability if elected.

We saw a great deal of that type of campaigning in the recent U.S. presidential election. We see it also in other campaigns of lesser import. In some cases, we don’t see it but it’s happening nevertheless, under a shroud of secrecy. How sad it is that the presence of sin in our lives prompts unkind, untruthful, unbecoming behavior that elevates one person and denigrates another.

In a perfect world, voters would be simply but earnestly encouraged to exercise their right and privilege of electing the most qualified candidate for any office for which an election is held. We don’t live in a perfect world.

It’s my conviction not to participate in any such negative behavior. I don’t mean that in a pietistic way. I simply speak the truth that’s in my heart. I encourage you to do the same. Ignore and do not participate in uncharitable campaigning. Better yet, discourage it. Speak out against it.

Martin Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment says it quite well: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” So be it!

Have Courage! Be Kind!

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.44.57 PMThere’s a very inexpensive movie theater fairly near our home. Tickets are $2.00 each. For seniors they’re $1.50. Sweet! On Wednesdays seniors get in for $1.00. Even sweeter!

Understandably, newly released movies don’t show up on the marquee right away. That’s OK. For that price, a guy like me who was raised during pretty tough economic times can wait.

So occasionally, when something interesting is being shown, I’ll meet Terry on my way home from my work day at Concordia University Texas. We’ll go to a late afternoon matinee, followed by a shared entrée at Hunan Lion, our favorite oriental restaurant.

Movie and dinner for two: Under $20. Time together with my wife of nearly 50 years: Priceless!

Last week we saw Cinderella. It wasn’t really in the same category as my favorites, like Indiana Jones or James Bond. But watching it was time well spent. Actually, it was a wonderful movie!

It’s probably not necessary to review here the plot of this classic fairy tale. Suffice it to say that the story portrays a mixture of the power of parental love, the pain of dysfunctional blended family abuse and the pleasure of romantic fantasy becoming reality.

Along with memorable scenes and remarkable animation, one of the most powerful highlights was the deathbed dialogue between Ella (later derogatorily named Cinderella by her evil stepsisters) and her biological mother. Mother asked daughter to forgive her for leaving so soon by dying. Ella obliged. Then mother advised daughter: “Have courage! Be kind!”

Good advice that Cinderella followed consistently. That included her parting words, late in the story, to her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine: “I forgive you.” Regardless of the reason for the pronouncement, in any context those words require both courage and kindness.

The Old Testament relates the advice of Moses to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” That encouragement was followed by this promise: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:7-8)

Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32)

Have courage! Be kind! Those wise and biblically based words for living are worth heeding. Even when the reminder to do so comes from a fairy tale!