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Monkey Wisdom


The key monkey is not the leader monkey.

I have been thinking more about my last post on the significance of so many Baby Boomers achieving the weighty age of 60. I have  realized that there is a connection with the hundredth monkey theory.

I expect almost everyone has heard the basic story. As I understood it, once the hundredth monkey had scrubbed his (no, probably her) tuber, the new practice of washing sweet potatoes before eating had hopped the ocean and spread throughout a species. This is about critical mass, of course, and how change happens.

In my early interest in New Age philosophy, I got enchanted with the Rupert Sheldrake version of this idea, namely that “the hundredth monkey effect would be evidence of morphic fields bringing about non-local effects in consciousness and learning.”

Unfortunately, the hundredth monkey theory has been discredited on many fronts as follows (all this per Wikipedia):

(1) The monkeys in question were macaques being observed by Japanese scientists, but there is apparently no record of the transformative act of a hundredth monkey. The story is basically hearsay.

(2) In fact, there is no evidence of any critical number beyond which sweet-potato washing magically spread.

(3) The sweet potatoes were made available to the monkeys by humans, so new behavior may have thereby been promoted.

(4) At least one washing monkey swam to another island and lived there for four years. (So did it take sweet potatoes with it and plant them? Things start getting murky.)

Nevermind. This reminds me of that quote by Black Elk, something like “I don’t know whether it happened or not, but we all know it’s true.”

This becomes especially pertinent during a presidential election year, when we’re looking for the leader whose vision will gather up the herd, so to speak and lead them to a new place. Actually that’s a bad metaphor. You would drive cattle from the rear, but onward.

We think of the leader being in the power spot, but the hundredth monkey theory reminds us that change really does come about through critical mass at the grassroots level. The critical monkey may be the twenty-seventh, the one-hundred sixty-third, or the three-hundred-fifteen-millionth, but not monkey number one.

To repeat, the key monkey is not the leader monkey. The key monkey is by definition the laggard and will exist in obscurity, probably never known or honored. Nonetheless, that would be the power monkey, the monkey supreme, the game-changer.

So back to my theory about the effect the 60-year-old Baby Boomers could have. I could hear minds going, “What kind of impact could four million birthdays have on the entire country? How could this possibly create any change for the better?”

And my response, as I have wended my way through monkey theory, is that it isn’t the volume of individuals turning 60, it’s the number going through some kind of transformation as they turn 60. One of those—just one—could unknowingly play the role of the power monkey that produces a transformational change in behavior. I think this is a very hopeful, very credible theory that should be inspiring to the emerging elders.

Is this clear now? Good. It was a bit of a struggle.





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