From constantly observing people around me, I have learned a lot. The people whom I consider my mentors taught me very important professional and life lessons. This is one of them.
Always Question Authority:
You might know about the “5 monkeys” experiment.
An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder. The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with extremely cold water. Whenever a monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him. After a while, the experimenter stops spraying cold water, altogether. The monkeys, however, kept following their routine of beating up he who climbed the ladder. Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he immediately begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him. After several beatings, he learns not to climb the ladder and also to beat anyone who does. Now second monkey is replaced and same thing happened. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed. The third, fourth and fifth monkeys were changed and same thing occurred. Now what was left was a group of monkeys who were never sprayed with cold water and who would prevent any monkey from climbing the ladder.
If the monkey who was replaced last asked the group why he was being beaten up, or why he was prevented from climbing the ladder, no one would know the real reason. They might say “It was always done this way”. Imagine if the monkey who was replaced first knows where the cold water switch is. Or, he knows how to make raincoats. If he would have asked the group why they were beating the monkeys that climbed, he would have found the solution right away. The problem was, he never asked. He just learned from the more-experienced monkeys that beating the climbing monkey was the “right thing” or the “best practice”. Also, the rest of the monkeys never confirmed whether the cold water shower was still going to occur. They always assumed it will. They never challenged themselves to find out.
I have learnt this by observing a lot of successful people. They never accept anything at its face value. They always question their mentor. They always question the current practices. If we want to improve something, we will have to question every aspect of it. We will be surprised how many things around us are there just because someone in ancient history experienced a cold water shower.
A real authority will always honor the questions. The authority who owns up to the practices or teachings will always have an answer or will always try to find the answer to our question. They will be ready to change their beliefs if the answer to our question proves them wrong. This kind of authority exudes unquestionable integrity and is widely respected. People around them are never in fear of questioning.
If someone questions our practices, we should be open to consider their solutions. People will respect us if they don’t fear us. If we create an environment that allows and encourages challenging and questioning seniors or mentors or practices, the possible solutions will create astounding collective progress.
It was only because someone questioned authority and popular notions of the time that we are not living on a flat earth which is at the center of the universe.
Here is a famous quote from The Dalai Lama:
“If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change”