My colleague and I were driving back to office after having visited a customer. We had stopped at a traffic signal. To our left was a popular street-food stall. There was the usual crowd of customers and a huge pile of disposable plates outside the dustbin next to the stall.
Colleague: Look at all those people! They are throwing the plates around the empty dustbin, not into it. Why can’t they throw the plates into the dustbin? It doesn’t involve any extra effort. These people just don’t know how to keep their surroundings clean. They will never change. India is a filthy country and will always remain a filthy country!
I: India can become a clean country. People can change.
Colleague: No way! These people are like the monkeys in the experiment. They will keep doing whatever they’ve been doing without knowing why they are doing it. How else can you explain why those guys kept throwing the plates around the empty dustbin, not into it?
I: What experiment are you talking about?
Colleague: A scientist, I don’t know the name, locked 5 monkeys in a cage. The cage had a bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling with a ladder under the bananas. One monkey started to climb the ladder to reach the bananas, but ice-cold water was immediately sprayed on him and on the other four monkeys. When another monkey tried to climb the ladder, ice-cold water was immediately sprayed on all five monkeys. This was repeated a number of times. Finally, all five monkeys realised that, if anyone climbs the ladder, they will all be sprayed with ice-cold water. So, all five monkeys refrained from climbing the ladder.
Then, the scientist replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey. Obviously, the new monkey started to climb the ladder to reach the bananas. No ice-cold water was sprayed, but the other four monkeys immediately beat him up. When this happened a few times, the new monkey also refrained from climbing the ladder.
The monkeys were replaced one by one. Each time, the same story was repeated. Finally, there were five new monkeys. None of them had been sprayed with ice-cold water, but they all refrained from climbing the ladder.
Finally, one of the monkeys was replaced with a new monkey. Obviously, the new monkey started to climb the ladder to reach the bananas. The other four monkeys immediately beat him up. He asked them why they beat him up as soon as he started climbing the ladder. The four monkeys had no answer. They were beating up the new monkey because that’s what they always did if any monkey started climbing the ladder.
The final result was all the monkeys refrained from climbing the ladder without knowing why they were doing so. Similarly, our countrymen treat our country as one big dustbin without knowing why they are doing so. They will never change.
I: Things can change. I’ll explain how. But, firstly, why do you say “They will never change.” Why not “We will never change.”?
Colleague: People like you and I are different from the majority. We are aware of cleanliness, hygiene, etc. But, we are in a hopelessly small minority. We can’t change this sorry state of affairs.
I: Wrong on both counts! Firstly, we may be better than many of our compatriots, but we are definitely a part of the problem. Secondly, we can make a difference. You’ve told me that you and your family are regular filmgoers who enjoy not just the film, but also the popcorn you eat while watching the film. What do you do with your empty popcorn packet?
Colleague: I crumple it and throw it under my seat.
I: What do your wife and your (6 years old) daughter do with their empty popcorn packets?
Colleague: They also crumple the packets and throw them under their seats.
I: Did you tell your daughter to do that?
Colleague: Obviously, she’s copying her parents.
I: Correct! You probably picked up this habit from your parents. Your daughter’s child will pick up the habit from your daughter. Isn’t it the story of the monkeys all over again? What’s the point of being “aware of cleanliness, hygiene, etc.”? Next time, why don’t you and your wife fold the empty packets and keep them, to be thrown into the dustbin while leaving the theatre after the film ends? And don’t wait for your daughter to copy you. Tell her to follow your example. That would be a good beginning: 3 persons changed for the better! The 3 of you should spread this message to others, and ask them to spread the message further. It won’t be easy, but if you are persistent, you will achieve considerable improvement over some time. One thing’s for sure: things won’t get worse!
Colleague: I agree things can improve to some extent. But, can India become a really very clean country?
I: I’m sure there are a lot of persons like you who speak very passionately about this matter. If all such persons transfer their passion from speech to action, India can become a really very clean country!