Fleas, monkeys, and the box

fleas, monkeys and the box

Zig Ziglar told the story of how to train a flea. If you put a bunch of fleas in a glass jar with a lid on it, Zig said, the little critters will jump as high as they can, which usually involves banging against the lid.

Naturally banging against the lid is not a pleasant experience, so the fleas eventually will jump only as high as they can without slamming the ceiling. After a while you can remove the lid but the fleas will not escape the jar, because they have learned from experience not to jump as high as they can.

There’s another fable about a psychologist who put five monkeys in a room with a stairway into the middle, and he put a tasty bunch of bananas at the top of the stairs. But whenever any of them tried to go get a banana, she was knocked down with a water cannon.

This continued until none of the monkeys tried to climb the stairs anymore, and the hose was turned off. Then one monkey was removed and replaced. When the new monkey tried climbing the stairs, the other four – having learned from experience their new friend would get blasted by water – actually dragged the monkey back down.

Then a second monkey was replaced and a third, until none of the original five monkeys remained, and none of the monkeys in the room had ever been blasted by water. Still, whenever someone headed up the stairs he was dragged back down.

If any of the fleas jumped as high as they could, they would be free to go anywhere they wanted. If any of the monkeys climbed the stairs, they would be rewarded with a banana. But they had been trained to believe there were barriers blocking the way, and so they remained in a box that now existed only in imagination.

Freedom comes from the realization that there is no box – there is no barrier – you have the power to jump and climb as far as you can.


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