Monkey See, Monkey Do


Yes, we humans are so advanced–way more advanced than monkeys.  Monkeys like to, well, monkey around by imitating behaviors they observe in other animals or even humans.  “Monkey see, monkey do” is the highly scientific description of this behavior.  How silly is that behavior? Don’t laugh too hard because humans have a monkey on their backs; we behave in just the same way.

The concept of “Monkey see, monkey do” is simply imitation.  The observer witnesses a specific behavior and then attempts to duplicate it.  “Monkey see, monkey do” is probably the first game you ever played even if you don’t remember it.  Your parent or some loving relative held you in a position where you got a good look at his face and then he, GASP, stuck his tongue out at you.  And your response?  Why you stuck your little ole tongue out right back.

Youngsters imitating the behavior of adults can be quite amusing.  A little girl will totter around with her tiny feet in her mother’s high heels.  A little boy might push his play lawnmower around after his dad who is mowing the yard.  But the behavior is not quite so amusing if it is negative.  Ralphie learned that lesson in “A Christmas Story” when he repeated some rather colorful language that he’d heard dear old dad spew.  Mmm!  That bar of soap tasted mighty fine–NOT!

As they grow, children naturally imitate the behavior they observe around them.  This situation may annoy an older sibling whom the young child imitates.  The annoyance may come out as an exasperated demand that the little brother or sister quit being a “copycat.”  Parents may also not be pleased if their offspring pick up on and then imitate their bad habits.  The little darlings are likely to be admonished to “do as I say and not as I do.”

But humans simply do not outgrow the “monkey see, monkey do” behavior.  It just rises to a different level in adulthood.  Imitation at this stage of life is typically of the keeping up with the Joneses variety.  If the neighbors put in a pool, why we have to have one too.  If your buddy buys a new truck, shouldn’t you do the same?

Think that this imitation behavior is an uncommon and limited occurrence?  Well, pull your head up out of the sand.  Just this past week a designer sold out of a particular dress within 24 hours.  The dress became a hot potato when Meghan Markle a/k/a Prince Harry’s girlfriend (possibly fiancee depending on the tabloid you read) wore it to the opening of the Invictus Games.  While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, I sincerely doubt that Ms. Markle was as concerned about what the general public thought of her dress as she was about what Prince Harry thought about it.

Imitation is, in the abstract, neither a good nor a bad thing.  The key is the type of behavior being imitated.  Imitating a positive behavior gets a thumbs up while imitating a negative behavior gets a thumbs down. An even better way to assess the imitation is to consider WHO is being imitated.  Imitating Charles Manson is pretty likely to be a bad thing while imitating Mother Theresa is fairly likely to be a good thing.

But these determinations require one to think before acting.  We can’t mindlessly stick our tongues out just because we see whoever happens to be standing in front of us is doing so.  If the person is an M.D. who is trying to address your sore throat, then following his lead to stick out your tongue is a good thing.  If the person is a bratty child who is trying to get your goat, then perhaps imitating his behavior is not the best course of action.

Imitating behavior takes on added significance when it comes to one’s faith because actions speak louder than words.  Christians are taught to imitate good behavior and not evil behavior.  (3 John 1:11).  And we are given a literally perfect example to imitate, Christ.  But our imitation of Him is not of the “Monkey see, monkey do” variety.  We consciously choose that we want to exhibit good behavior and turn to look at the ideal guide for behavior to imitate.

We are not monkeys, and our behavior should reflect a higher order of thinking.  Let’s not just see and do as a monkey would.  Instead, let’s use our advanced brains to see, think about and then do the appropriate action whether or not it imitates what we have seen.  Let’s imitate the Maker of the monkeys and not just the monkeys or the humans He has created.

Just WONDER-ing:  Do you imitate anyone?  If so, who?  Why do you imitate him?








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s