There are a couple of copycats living in my backyard. Scratch that. There are a couple of copydogs living in my backyard. Now about twelve weeks old, the two blackish sort-of-Labs are brother and sister from the same litter. Tip and Tildy are normal enough puppies, but I can’t help but notice similarities that transcend appearances. They do the same things, at the same time. Tildy is hot, so she climbs into the little pool to cool off. Before you know it, Tip is pushing his way into the water also. Tip picks up a stick and carries it a foot or two away and instantly, Tildy is there grabbing the other end of it. One stops to scratch an itch and without hesitation, the other is scratching the same itch.
I walk into the yard and they rush to me, anxious to be petted and have their ears and tummies scratched. As I scratch her chest, Tildy starts to chew playfully on my fingers. Instantly, and even without being able to see what she is doing, Tip is chewing on the fingers of my other hand. They sit, bookends, on each side of my legs. Like the old set of dog-shaped magnets with which my dad used to let me play, their actions mirror each other, each moving in concert with its twin.
“Monkey see, monkey do.” It’s an old saying, probably originating in Africa, but making its way to our culture from Jamaica in the early part of the twentieth century. Quite obviously, the saying has it’s roots in the idea that just as monkeys mimic each other to learn new tricks, humans have the same traits. I won’t argue with the concept. Even modern psychology has a new hypothesis that there is such a thing as a “mirror neuron” in our brains that enables us to learn and copy each other. I’ll leave that to the intellectuals, but I’ve seen the “monkey see, monkey do” idea in action too many times to dispute what they have to say.
“What’s that, Grandpa?” The question comes from the curious oldest boy as he enters the house and sees me washing grapes in the colander. There is no time to reply before the query is echoed by his younger sister. “Wha dat, Gampa?” Curiosities satisfied, they head outside to play. Within moments, a fracas erupts. I push out the door to see the landscape scattered with toys. Lying unmanned in the immediate vicinity there is a skateboard, a wagon, a popping push-toy, and even nearby, a swing set with two empty swings, a ladder and a slide. Three kids are arguing about one, solitary tricycle. The oldest is astride the disputed toy, with the younger girl tugging at the handlebars yelling, and the youngest child standing nearby whimpering, “Me wanna ride.”
“Ah, but, we grow out of it,” I hear someone say. And, if you weren’t a keen observer of human nature, you might be inclined to agree. I’m pretty sure we don’t “grow” out of it as much as we become more sophisticated in our mimicry, perhaps even aping each other more as we age than we did as children. We’ve moved past the “going to die if I can’t have it” stage during our teenage years, only to arrive at the place where we no longer say the words, but just follow through. Even those of us who pride ourselves on our curmudgeonly disregard of current fashion have those moments. On two of the last three Sundays, I have arrived at church, ready to participate on the worship team, only to find that the other worship leader and I were to be bookends for the duration; he with his black square-cut hemmed shirt untucked over his khaki dress pants, and I with my black square-cut hemmed shirt untucked over my khaki dress pants. The first week, I laughed and figured it was a coincidence and wouldn’t happen again. Uh, no…the next week, we were reversed; I in the leaders position, he at the other end singing a part, but, you guessed it…still bookends. I schemed to fool him this past weekend, with a denim untucked shirt over my khakis, but it appears that I was the fool, since he got sick and wasn’t even there. I’m guessing black and khaki will be the color next week again.
Our fashions, cars, homes, furnishings…all are based on the “monkey see, monkey do” principle. We haven’t outgrown the syndrome. We’ve got it in a bear hug, a death grip almost! Oh, once in awhile, some notorious rock or movie star bucks the norm, usually with some action so outrageous that the obvious attempt to draw the spotlight to themselves actually belies their efforts to break out of the lockstep lifestyle we all embrace. Even the strange people we know in real life or see in the documentaries on television are just unfortunates who have taken the principle to an extreme, gathering belongings piled on top of other belongings, finding comfort and satisfaction in the things. It’s a syndrome which is nearly impossible to break out of. Most of us never will, to any large extent.
I don’t want to leave this on a depressing note, but reality is reality. And it’s not all bad. Some of the “monkey see, monkey do” syndrome inspires us to be better people. Paul the Apostle urged his readers to be followers of him, the principle being that, as he followed Christ faithfully, they would also be doing the same. I have some role models who bring out the better nature in me. I won’t embarrass them by naming names, but I would suggest that all of us would do well to surround ourselves with such people. “Monkey see, monkey do” syndrome isn’t a disaster unless it robs us of the ability to think and act in ways that leave the world better off for our having walked through it.
Every once in awhile, I still hear my Mama say, “If everyone else jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump off, too?” I laugh at the hyperbole, but at the very least, the sentiment deserves consideration. I’m pretty sure the answer is no, but there have been some close calls. She hasn’t asked the question for a lot of years, but I still keep it handy in my memory files, just to check up on myself once in awhile.
I may actually have to buy some more new clothes for church though, if something doesn’t change there soon.
“It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation.”
(Herman Melville~American author~1819-1891)
“Children are natural mimics, who act like their parents in spite of every effort to teach them good manners.”