Why We’re Not Monkeys

Normally I write a blog post when I experience something that inspires me, but today I thought I’d do something a little different. Today I wanted a challenge. I decided to find something random and come up with a way to make something meaningful out of it (honestly, isn’t that always what I’m doing anyway?). So I went to a random word generator, which offered six new words each time I clicked a button. I clicked the button three times, and among other things, I got “gorilla,” “giant,” and “banana.” Looks like somebody up there would really like me to write something about monkeys.

So, apparently the reason monkeys think we humans are so gosh darn unattractive is because we have these big ugly foreheads. (I would like to think the monkeys would leave us alone mating-wise no matter how our heads were shaped, but this is what my professor said the other day so I’m gonna go with it.) Why do our foreheads protrude, unlike those of our monkey friends? Well, it’s because we have prefrontal cortexes.

Which is really cool, because that’s the part of our brain that we use to make decisions. But which is really uncool because the prefrontal cortex actually doesn’t get fully developed until you’re at least 25 or so, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve had to make quite a few decisions when, frankly, your brain literally doesn’t know how to do it. If you didn’t know this fun fact before, you might feel alarmed right now- or you might finally feel justified. At least that’s how it was for me. Thank goodness it’s not going to be so tough to make decisions my whole life!

Now, here’s the part that seems weird to me. When you think about the trajectory of a person’s life, honestly, a ton of the really huge decisions get made before age 25. Many people are younger than 25 when they decide on a college, a career path, and sometimes even a life partner. We spend the great part of our adult lives building on the basics that we set up before we were even really capable of doing so. Does that feel scary for anyone else?

Think of it this way. Let’s say you have really poor vision like me. Your glasses are coming, but you’ve got to go to the store now because you can’t live without food, right? So you blurrily start shopping. You don’t know what your options are, you don’t really know what you’ve chosen, you’re not even sure if you’re prepared to pay for it. You end up leaving the store with something, for sure, but you definitely had a handicap in picking it. You get home, and finally, there are your glasses. You put them on, and now you’ve got to feed yourself. You’ve got to deal with whatever is in front of you and make the best of it now that you understand, or else risk losing time and money and wasting resources by going back to the store and starting all over again. Maybe you’ve even got someone depending on you, someone who needs food now, and going back means you have to keep them waiting.

This all feels like some kind of practical joke, right? What genius supreme or scientific being was like, “Hey, you know what would be fun? Making humans do a bunch of stuff they can’t do when they’re too undeveloped to understand that they can’t do it! Then I’ll make them live out the consequences.” I picture some evil laugh there. Why would you do this to us, oh great supreme/scientific being?

Because I have to come up with an answer for everything, here’s what I have decided. We are made this way because there is something infinitely important in the ability to leap, to feel, to trust. If we had fully functional decision-making skills as kids, we probably wouldn’t do the awesome things we love kids for: doing whatever they want just because it’s fun, making mistakes and getting over them, saying what they mean. Essentially, kids would be mini adults. That would be really sad, not to mention boring.

I think we are made this way so that we have a whole 25 years of practice following our hearts because our heads can’t quite do it. I think we were made this way so that we would know the feeling of acting on impulse, of taking risks, of choosing a path of passion and fulfillment over a path of steady security. I think our good old supreme/scientific being figured 25 years of practice should be enough, so that those feelings and behaviors of intense emotionality will fuel us when our heads are ready and we have other people to take care of.

So, for those of us who are still running around confused and blurry-eyed, let’s take advantage of it. Let’s make the risky choice. Let’s do what we feel rather than what we think. In short, let’s make our lives exciting and vibrant and so fulfilling that when we are finally trusted with the responsibility of making decisions, we can make them with fully practiced, completely understood hearts rather than timid, safe, logical heads.

Lo and behold, I have come to the conclusion that we were made this way for a reason, even though it’s hard. That’s life, right? Our brains aren’t wired to understand it all. The best we can do is to follow our hearts, because they get the world far more than our heads ever will.

How’s that for meta? Somebody up there wanted me to write about monkeys, and I started this blog months ago. At the time I couldn’t figure out the answer. It took me a while to get it. And what did I figure out? That somebody up there knows far more than I do about why we are the way we are, and that my only job is to trust.

Now that’s something I know how to do.

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