Going Bananas: Message from the Morning Man
by Kojo Yankson
12th July 2016
I once read about a rather interesting experiment conducted by behavioural scientists in an American university. They put ten monkeys in a room, and placed a step ladder in the middle. Then they tied a banana to a rope and hung it from the ceiling directly above the step ladder. One monkey decided to go for the banana. As soon as it started climbing the ladder, freezing cold water was sprayed into the room, drenching the monkeys. Another monkey thought they’d give it a go, and again, they were all soaked in ice-cold water. One by one, each monkey took a run at the ladder, but again and again, they were all drenched. Eventually, they all gave up on trying to get the banana.
Then one of the monkeys was replaced. The new monkey immediately spotted the banana dangling from the ceiling, so of course, he started to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pounced on him, pulled him down and beat the living daylights out of him. The new monkey knew nothing about the freezing water, but the other monkeys beat the message into him: YOU DO NOT GO FOR THE BANANA.
The scientists replaced another monkey, and the same thing happened. No water. They simply beat the new guy until he got it. One by one, each monkey was replaced until none of the original freezing water group remained. Now they didn’t even know why they kept beating each other. All they knew was, YOU DO NOT GO FOR THE BANANA.
My friends, I think this experiment is a clear reflection of what is happening in many societies today – including ours. At some point, we somehow got the message that it is wrong to strive for what we want. At some point, it became wrong to attempt excellence. At some point, it became wrong to try new things. So many Ghanaians have come home from a life abroad, and wanted to implement the new things they’ve learnt, but all they hear is, “that’s not how we do things here”. Talk a little differently, dress a little differently, act a little differently, think a little differently, and they’ll descend on you like a wilderness of monkeys. Oh, and just try to introduce a new procedure at work and see what happens. In politics, we see it all the time. One party announces a policy, the other shoots it down, only to adopt it themselves later.
But we are at our worst when one of us is trying to succeed where the rest of us have previously failed. Then we suddenly become vicious. There was a story making the rounds in Cape Coast back in the eighties of a house-help whose employer paid for her to go to the same school as his daughter. They all wrote the common entrance exam at the same time, and the house help aced all her papers. She gained admission into Wesley Girls, and the daughter actually both failed her maths paper. The night before she went to secondary school, the daughter went into the house help’s bedroom and stabbed her to death.
Extreme, I know, but I want you to ask yourself how you feel when someone you consider your equal succeeds where you haven’t.
Friends, our nation needs healing. We are about to have an election. For decades, Ghana’s largest “export” has been peace and stability. A lot of that exists because of our tolerance for each other. Let’s be aware of the threats to our tolerance. I always ask you to believe in yourselves. Today, I want you to believe in each other. If one wins, we all win. We don’t even know why we are beating each other down. So let’s stop it.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I rejoice in your success, because it proves mine is possible too.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!