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The South Indian monkey trap

The South Indian monkey trap

The South Indian monkey trap is an age old method for catching live monkeys. It was also used by Robert M Prisig in Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance to illustrate the concept of value rigidity in human beings.

Here is how it works as a monkey trap. It consists of a coconut hollowed out from one end and chained to a stake in the ground. Some sweet rice is placed inside the coconut. The hole in the coconut is big enough for a monkey to put its hand in and grab the rice, but too small for it to remove its fist with the sweet rice.
Curiously, there is no physical barrier preventing a monkey from escaping this trap; there is only a mental barrier. The Monkeys’ inability to reevaluate rice in the context of their new circumstances costs them their freedom.
Will the monkey learn that it has to let go of the rice in order to regain its freedom?
We as human beings have our own ‘sweet rice’ which can prevent us from achieving true freedom.
It is called value rigidity. Here is how it works.
Our thoughts and actions are often constrained by mental barriers of our own creation. Such imaginary constraints often lead to poor decisions. For example as an entrepreneur I value the idea of never giving up.

On the whole this value is a virtue but it can become a problem when attached to a particular idea or strategy such as as business model.

In my case value rigidity kept me locked into a certain direction long after the facts, if observed objectively, point to a better way of doing things. In my case it was rigidly identifying with the value of never giving up actually prevented me from seeing alternatives. it wasn’t until I was able to let go of my business and see the bigger picture that I realized some very simple alternatives to how I had been going about achieving my aim.

Many people place a very high value on success, or more precisely a high negative value on failure. When this happens people will not even try to achieve something which matters to them because value rigidity has them locked into a modality in which failure has a higher negative value. Until they learn to reevaluate their idea of failure, perhaps seeing it as a learning experience, they may not even try to succeed.

To achieve freedom, we must recognize our mental barriers, be fully aware of value rigidity that underlies our thought process, and consciously choose our values, thoughts, words, and actions everyday.

For example the value placed on material possessions is in many cases keeping people locked into jobs that they do not like. Let go of the value of material possessions and you reduce your need to work, thus freeing up time to consider alternatives to the current lifestyle that is not fulfilling your true potential.

The value economists place on constant growth has us locked into a course that may lead to our own destruction through the pressure that excessive consumption places on our environment.

In this case to remove ourselves from the trap which we have created we need to let go our value rigidity and consider objectively the value we place on material possessions and economic growth. In light of our new circumstances within our changing environment we may find that we need to let go of our consumerists tendencies quite urgently to avoid our destruction.

Which begs the question – Will the highly evolved monkeys learn to let go in order to regain their freedom?

2 Comments
  1. Howard Tarpey permalink

    What a great observation! The analogy of the monkey and the sticky rice is perfect for how the western economic systems ‘growth at all cost’ is indeed a trap. On the positive side society is made up of individuals…me! and you! When we decide to make a change and opt out of this economic madness we do indeed free up our time and allow space for alternatives to present themselves that are in alignment with how we really wish to live.

    To create great change on a global scale takes each one of us to to make the change for ourselves.

    There is another analogy about the Law of Critical Mass which is based on a study and documented in the book The 100th Monkey where when enough of us have made a change and in this case have opted out of this current system, for the good of ourselves and the earth, then when the magic number is reached all humanity will benefit as the system will change as a consequence of the change of the mass.

    I truly hope that we the highly evolved monkeys will let go of our version of sticky rice and free ourselves and in turn all of humanity.

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  1. The South Indian Monkey Trap: How Our Values Compromise Our Freedom | Thoughts of Ascent

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