Two monkeys in a glass cage are separated by a see-through barrier. Both are given the same task, for which they are rewarded a slice of cucumber. This process repeats over and over, with each monkey happily accepting the cucumber for their identical task. But then, one monkey is rewarded with a delicious grape while the other continues to get the same slice of cucumber. The monkey sees this injustice and gets agitated, throwing the slice of cucumber out of his cage in a rage and banging on the glass wall. Incredibly, just moments before he was fully satisfied with the cucumber, but upon seeing his fellow monkey performing the identical task receive a more favorable treat, he finds the glaring inequality unsettling and goes off in a rage.
This inequality can applied to our society in numerous ways. One alarming statistic is that life expectancy in America has been on the decline for the last three years – this phenomenon hasn’t happened in the last 100 years! In fact, in the 1960s, the US had the highest life expectancy and now it ranks near the bottom of all developed countries. As we drill down, this decline is primarily from whites, middle class, age 45-54; the sons & daughters of the so-called greatest generation. Of course, there may be several factors contributing to this, big and small, but one study suggests it is due to the growing inequality and dashed expectations this generation feels. Much like the monkey in the cage, many sense this injustice and feel helpless which causes enormous stress and psychological trauma.
Ironically, the monkey who received the delicious grapes was also unnerved and found it very unsettling to observe his fellow monkey throwing a fit of rage. He too grasped this unfairness and found it disconcerting. It illustrates the broader view that living in a society with glaring inequality causes a toxic stress to all parties involved, even among those whom are thriving among their peers.
This is by no means a political statement but rather a sociological observation based on trends and statistics that we are facing in America. Many feel a loss of control in their destiny and dashed expectations as they see their hopes of a better life than their parents slipping away. This underlying tension causes a toxic anxiety creating an additional stress factor making us unwell as a society. These inequities are no laughing matter but by observing these monkeys suffer a small injustice, it should make us all realize we need to learn to live with unfairness, in big and small ways, in our daily lives as we all face situations that we deem unfair.