I am not sure where this originally came from. It arrived in my email at work one day. If there is credit to be given, and you know who should get the credit, please let me know.
Start with a cage containing five apes. In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it. Before long, an ape will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the apes with cold water. After a while, another ape makes an attempt with the same result - all the apes are sprayed with cold water. This continues through several more attempts. Pretty soon, when another ape tries to climb the stairs, the other apes will try to prevent it. Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one ape from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new ape sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other apes attack 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 five apes and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part the punishment with enthusiasm. Again, replace a third original ape with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four apes that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest ape. After replacing the fourth and fifth original apes, all the apes which have ben sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no ape ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because that's the way it's always been around here. And that is how company policy begins.
Even though it talks about company policy, and that is the environment I received it in, I think this could apply to any social arena. I remember once hearing a story about a young woman who cut off the ends of a ham. She asked her mother why she did it. Her mother didn't know, she had just done what her mother always did. When they asked the grandmother she said it was because the ham never fit in the size pan she had.
How often do we just go with the way things are without question? How often do we do it to avoid pain? How often does it affect those who come after us?