Do you ever wonder if you can make a difference in the world? Truly, really make a difference? I do. I wonder this all the time. I vividly remember myself as a 9-year-old girl in pigtails, playing with Barbie dolls, scribbling stories in tattered notebooks and dreaming of changing the world. Very early on, I formed a list of things I wanted to be when I grew up, and underlying every occupation of choice was the desire to make a positive impact. I wanted to be a teacher (to help children), a psychologist (to ease another’s pain), or maybe a lawyer for the FTC to regulate deceptive advertising (to inspire truth).
As I got older, my dreams of changing the world faded a bit. As my eyes opened to the incredible challenges of the world, my dreams began to look small and insignificant. The difficulties of the world started to seem insurmountable. I began to ask myself, “What good would it do to teach children how to read when so many children are dying every second in Ethiopia?” I wondered, “Why would it matter if I helped an anxious businessman feel better about his life when mass shooters are killing 6-year-olds for sport?”
I began to feel naïve, if not downright ignorant. Who did I think I was, to think I could change the world? To make a difference? I was just an ordinary girl from a Michigan suburb. I wasn’t smarter, prettier or more talented than anyone else.
I started to let go of my dreams, and I let the demon of practicality enter my life. Maybe, instead of working for a nonprofit organization, I could simply volunteer, and in the meantime I could make a lot more money working for a corporation. So that’s what I did. I channeled my creativity into the world of marketing, and I spent some time volunteering with Special Olympics … until my job got a little too “busy” and I got a little too overwhelmed. I didn’t think I was making a difference anyway, so why would Special Olympics (or any other organization) miss me? I quit, and they replaced me within days. Apparently I was right. I was extremely disposable and I definitely didn’t matter a bit.
I got jaded. I lost my fire. I thought I was too small to make a difference, so I settled for ordinary instead.
What would happen to us if we all decided that we were too small to make a difference? What would happen in the world if everyone settled for ordinary?
Over the last few years, I’ve been finding the fire inside of me again. Instead of looking out at the world and seeing things as insurmountable and feeling as if I can’t make a difference, I’ve started asking what I can do. I was mulling this question over a few weeks ago with my chiropractor. I asked him, “How can we make the world a better place, Dr. Hill? Do you have any wisdom?”
It turned out that Dr. Hill did, indeed, have some wisdom for me. He shared with me the story of 100 Monkeys. It goes something like this:
The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years.
In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.
An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.
This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.
Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes — the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let’s further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.
THEN IT HAPPENED!
By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!
But notice: A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea…Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes.
Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind.
Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people.
But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!
From the book “The Hundredth Monkey” by Ken Keyes, Jr.
The book is not copyrighted and the material may be reproduced in whole or in part.
The 100th Monkey story gave me exactly what I was looking for that day – faith. Not just hope, but true faith and firm belief that positive change is not only possible but probable, and all I have to do to truly change the world is to change myself.
I am not insignificant. As I open my eyes and my heart to the beauty of the world around me, and as I loosen my grip on material possessions and superficial needs (like “fitting in” and “being liked”), I’m not only changing myself – I’m changing people around me, too.
We need to stop playing small. We squash ourselves down to fit in acceptable little boxes, thinking we’ll be judged or ridiculed or scoffed at on our journey to find our inner power. But people are going to judge and ridicule us anyway! Shouldn’t we be judged for the beautiful and brave, rather than the scared and the small?
Marianne Williamson put it best when she said:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Playing small doesn’t make people like us. Playing strong inspires other people to be their best selves. As I become my best self, I inspire others to do the same – and they inspire the people around them as well. It’s the most powerful version of “paying it forward” and there is no limit to what we can achieve.
It only takes 100 monkeys. And I am happy to be one of them.