Even experts fall from trees

Farm Forum

There is a Japanese proverb that states “Saru mo ki kara ochiru” or “even monkeys fall from trees.”

The point of this proverb is that even though monkeys are quite skillful at climbing and swinging around in trees, they sometimes fall. Likewise, even though a person is an expert at something, they can still make mistakes in their area of expertise.

This proverb has some profound implications for our expectations of each other.

We elect people and somehow think they will become instant experts on how to solve problems that have been entrenched for years. We can see the fallacy of that thinking pretty easily when we think about it, but what about the politician who has been around for years? We are quite unforgiving of their mistakes. We can easily forget years of excellent public service and sacrifice, if they fall from their tree of perfection.

Religious leaders will often be adamantly opposed to something. In a strange twist of irony, quite often people become what they resist. Sometimes people rail against something because they are in conflict between what they have a strong urge to do and what they feel is immoral. The gay-bashing female minister, who is or becomes strongly sexually attracted to another woman, may struggle diligently to resist her urge but, even monkeys fall from trees.

We have a tendency to expect that, because a person is a teacher, they should know everything. If the person has a PhD, we can treat them like an oracle, expecting that we can ask any question and out will pop the correct answer; one that agrees with our world view, in words that we can understand. Once said aloud, that clearly becomes an unreasonable expectation, to some of us anyway.

But what about the person whose life is totally dedicated to a particular subject, the person who is known to be an “expert” in a specialized field? It is useful to remember that no matter how much of an expert someone is, even monkeys fall from trees.

We have a strong culture of relying on authorities, from our parents to teachers to tax and business consultants to government and religious leaders, to think for us. Many of us look to them tell us what to do. Even assuming that these people have our best interests at heart, it is useful to remember that, even monkeys fall from trees.

This is not to say that we should not listen to experts and authorities. After all, they are less likely to fall from their trees of expertise than those of us who have never swung from those trees. However, we should not stop thinking when authorities tell us things. We should ask for evidence and verification. We should challenge and compare their opinions. We should expect them to be able to walk us through their thought processes.

If they cannot, or will not, it is reasonable to assume they may have fallen from their tree.

Lawrence Diggs, Roslyn, is an author and professional public speaker. Write him at americannews@aberdeen