Dr. David Henderson

Monkey Brains

Seven Steps To Motivating People Without Killing Yourself In The Process
March 17, 2014
David Henderson
Calvin Dinner

For any of you that love the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon series, you know that Calvin and his mother do battle every time dinner rolls around. She exhausts herself, trying to get him to eat what he sees as a pile of green mush. One day, she simply gives up. When he strolls into the kitchen and asks, “What’s for dinner,” she replies, “Monkey brains.” The irony is that Calvin is so intrigued by the possibility that his mom may have actually cooked something as disgusting as he has always feared, he feels compelled to try it. With one or two timid bites, he realizes that he actually likes monkey brains!!

Calvin’s mom showed true brilliance in that moment. She did several things that ultimately led Calvin to try a few bites of her dinner:

1. She named the fear: She knew that every time Calvin sat down for dinner, he imagined some horrific concoction of unpalatable offals (def: internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal). Rather than being disgusted by this, she named the fear out loud. She acknowledged “this is what you fear and I understand."

2. She validated the fear: Some of us might call this lying, but I believe calling the meal “monkey brains” was simply a validation of how Calvin felt about her cooking. She knew no amount of arguing or rhetoric would convince him otherwise, so she went along with it.

3. She disarmed Calvin: No matter what she cooked, she understood Calvin’s tendency to argue about everything. As a little boy, he was determined to assert his independence, his understanding of the world and how things should be done. By refusing to battle with him, she took away Calvin’s one source of power to drive his parents crazy.

4. She didn’t get defensive: By trying to prove that her meal wasn’t monkey brains, Calvin’s mom would only have been defending herself. “I’m not a bad cook. I’m not trying to kill you. I’m not an idiot. I do know what’s best for you. I do love you.” She came to realize that this mode of approach never works. Let him believe all those negative things. One day, he’ll realize the truth, but not by me telling him. He’ll have to experience it for himself.

5. She gave no alternative: She could have given into Calvin in order to have peace. Alleviated his fears by making him his favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but she didn’t. There would be no other options from her. He had to accept what was coming or go hungry.

6. She gave no instructions on how to proceed: No more “just try it, honey, and you’ll like it.” No more “all you need to do is take three bites.” Calvin was on his own. What he chose to do was entirely up to him. Mom was there to help guide him if he sought it out, but she was done offering solutions that would only get shot down by Calvin’s resistance.

7. She pricked his curiosity: Whatever Calvin chose to do, Mom was going to eat monkey brains. He witnessed his mother living out her fearlessness, her love of monkey brains, and it prompted him to wonder what it was about monkey brains that made her want to make it and eat it herself. “If mom eats monkey brains, I should at least see what all the fuss is about.” And with a few bites, he was now eating monkey brains himself!!

1. What new and exciting adventure might you be missing out on in your life because of fear?
2. Who has tried to convince you to change and how have you brushed them off?
3. Is it time that you face your fears and try some monkey brains? (Who knows, you might like it!)
4. Maybe you’ve been trying to convince someone of something important and you just don’t seem to get anywhere. What could you learn from Calvin’s mom?