Mar 15
The Monkey, the Volcano, and the Dangers of Rationalizing Risk
by Cadence WM |

Half way up the slope of a volcano lived a monkey. Like his fellow monkeys, he spent the majority of his days picking and eating fruit off the trees growing on the side of the volcano. Unbeknownst to his friends, however, he dreamed of one day opening his own banana pie stand where he could spend his old age providing delight to others, just making and serving pie, passing the time in enjoyable conversation. And picking lice, of course. He dreamed this every day as he foraged, and it made him happy.

But he knew he would only get there if he grew big and strong enough to build that stand, so he ate as much fruit as he could from the trees half way up the slope. One day a friend of his told him he was moving further up the volcano to get fruit, because as every monkey knew, the higher up the volcano you were, the better and more nutritious was the fruit. The monkey had been hanging out halfway up the volcano because it had erupted a couple times recently which had scared him, and he wanted to be able to make it down off the volcano before the lava could reach him. While picking lice off each other, many monkeys told tales of others in the past who had picked fruit too high up at dangerous times and who never made it back down.

His friend assured him, though, that now was a good time to be going higher, because the fruit up there had been growing ever more delicious and nutritious.  “Hmmm,” thought the monkey, “that would mean I would be able to build the pie stand sooner, for I would grow even bigger and stronger.”  But still, he was hesitant.

“Why has the fruit been growing more delicious and nutritious?” he asked his friend.

“Because the volcano has turned active again, and the ash from the volcano is nourishing the trees, and there is more ash falling the higher you go.”

While picking a nice fat louse off his friend, he asked “But, isn’t it more dangerous up there now? Aren’t you worried the volcano will erupt and you will not outrun the lava?”

“Pshaw,” said his friend. “The volcano let a little lava out a few years ago, and nobody really got hurt.  A couple years ago it let out A LOT of lava and it was pretty scary for a while, but then it stopped as quickly as it started and the fruit nearest the top grew LIKE CRAZY.  I’m pretty sure it’s done erupting now for a while, and besides, if I think the volcano will erupt again, I’ll just move lower.” And with that, his friend was off, moving higher up the volcano under the wistful eyes of the monkey.

Days passed, and not only was there no new eruption, the monkey saw more and more of his troop heading higher every day. “Come on!” they yelled, “You don’t want to miss it! The fruit is more nutritious and delicious than ever!”

Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. He could look up the mountain and see all his friends, laughing and frolicking and swinging, eating the fruit that was more delicious than ever. He could feel the rumblings of the volcano, but the lava from the last two eruptions had cooled and was already a distant memory. “I can get my pie stand so much faster if I were bigger and stronger,” he thought, and started moving up the slope.

He had not reached his friends yet when he saw a very old monkey walking down the volcano.

“Hey! Where are you going?” asked the monkey. “Isn’t the fruit at the top more delicious and nutritious than ever?”

“Oh my yes, my young friend, it is,” said the very old monkey, continuing down the slope.

“Then why are you going down the volcano?” he asked.

“Because,” replied the very old monkey, “I’ve lived through many eruptions, and some of them have injured me and it’s taken years and years to heal.  The last one nearly got me, and I feel foolish I was in that position in the first place.  I should know better, so I am going to move to a safer place before the next eruption finishes me off for good.” And like that, he disappeared behind a tree.

The monkey knew he was taking a big risk by going higher, but he promised himself he would only stay and eat the fruit long enough to get big and strong, and then he too would return down the volcano to build his pie stand far sooner than he’d ever dreamed. He kept going higher, right toward the top, where the fruit was even more nutritious and delicious then he’d imagined. He knew the rumblings meant that the volcano COULD blow, but it seemed like everyone was still OK, and besides, many monkeys that knew a lot more about volcanos than he did said right at the top was still the best place to pick fruit.

Even though the volcano had erupted a couple times in the past few years, the build-up inside the cone was more intense than it had ever been.  When it did erupt, the lava flowed faster and stronger than anticipated and none of the monkeys at the top could outrun the lava this time.  Every risk-taking monkey assumes it will be able to flee the danger in time, and although sometimes it can, the day inevitably arrives when it can’t.

When the new lava toward the top finally cooled and the fast-growing trees reappeared with all that new volcanic soil helping them create fruit even more delicious and nutritious than before the eruption, the old monkey made his way back up the slope. He was wise enough to know he was lucky to have avoided the danger when he did, even though he gave up some really great fruit for a little bit.  In the end, living to eat the best fruit another day was worth it.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the February 2022 edition of our “Cadence Clips” newsletter.

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