One night I was watching my favorite television show, Modern Family, when I heard a line so funny that I’m still laughing.
The daughter, attending a hi-tech college, said some genius students in a lab taught a monkey to play the saxophone.
She added, “We don’t know if the monkey is any good because all he plays is jazz.”
The joke reminded me of one of the principles in life I live by.
In short, beware of invisible monkeys.
I don’t mean monkeys in the world or in the zoo.
I don’t mean monkeys in science fiction or on television shows.
I mean monkeys in terms of what people try to pass to you when you aren’t alert or looking.
While the phrase “monkey on my back” refers to drug addiction, it’s also relevant in another way.
Let me explain:
Years ago I was reading the book Tell to Win by Peter Guber when he told a story I never forgot.
Guber was working with and for Jack Warner, the legendary founder of Warner Brothers, and complaining to the giant that all people did was bring him problems.
Warner gave him advice neither he or I have ever forgotten:
“You’re the zookeeper, and every single person that comes in the office comes with a monkey. That monkey is their problem. They’re trying to leave it with you. Your job is to discover where the monkey is. They’ll hide it, or dress it up, but remember you’re the zookeeper…Think of that visually. Make them all take their monkey problems away and come back with a solution.”
I love that.
I became more aware of all the people who write, call, email, visit or want to see me – and the invisible “monkeys” they try to leave with me.
They want me to solve their problem, finish their business, handle their challenges, or in some other way do something for them that they themselves can’t or won’t do.
In short, they are trying to pass off a monkey.
It’s the same for you.
People often call you, visit you, ask to meet with you, to do one thing: give their monkey to you.
If it’s your job to accept monkeys, so be it.
But most of the time the “monkeys” we get offered are simply other people’s problems. They are trying to get us to fix them. So they come to us to “drop off” their monkey.
I don’t argue that sometimes people need help. Lord knows I’ve been there.
But way too often people are shirking their own duties and responsibilities and passing their invisible monkey to you, hoping you will deal with it.
You then have the proverbial “monkey on your back.”
The way around this is to be alert.
Watch for the invisible monkey.
It may be disguised as a compliment, or a gift.
It may be called a domesticated monkey who won’t be a real problem and they are asking you to care for it.
It may be presented as something good or good for you.
As long as you can see the monkey, and know it is being offered to you and you don’t have to accept it, then you are at choice.
You are free to accept the monkey or return it to its current owner for them to deal with.
You are then monkey proof.
I wrote a song on my last singer-songwriter album that conveys this message.
“The Hook” is a reminder to not take the “monkey/hook” that is offered to you throughout the day.
Someone says something mean and your tendency will be to “take the hook” and get mad.
Someone pulls out in front of you in traffic and you’ll be tempted to react to “the hook” and do or say something nasty.
But you don’t have to take the hook or the monkey.
As long as you are aware, you can stay neutral.
You can remain at peace.
I love monkeys, I just don’t want one on my back – even if he can play the saxophone.