Always Wanting More

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The tale of the lab rat and the best kibble in the world…
By Elizabeth Cutright

I tell this story to friends all the time – particularly friends who may have overcome the types of standoffs I wrote about a few posts back. I don’t remember where I first read it, and though I’m sure a quick Google search would reveal all the details and intricacies of the tale, I’m happier with the vaguest of retellings.

Here’s what I know…

There was once a rat. She was a sad little lab rat, who spent her days inside a wire cage, looking out at the busy research scientists who hustled and bustled past her without so much as a “how do you do?” She spent her time deciding which corner to nap in, which bar to nibble on, and whether or not she felt up to the challenge of a go-around in the wheel.

Sometimes she was prodded and poked by cold hands encased in latex. Every now and then, a voice with a kind and caring cadence would speak to her as she was flipped on her back and pricked with a needle.

But those quiet moments of connection were few and far between. To most of the beings she encountered, she was just a tool – a piece of information whose only purpose was its part of a larger puzzle.

As she neared the end of her time in the lab, her assignments dwindled, and while she missed the previous interactions that spiced up her monotonous day, she couldn’t say she really minded the slowdown. She was grateful for the respite, for the chance at longer naps and quieter daydreams.

One day her bowl of kibble disappeared, and in its place appeared a lever. Looking cautiously to the right and left, she saw that many of her neighbors – similar “retirees” on their way out of the science biz – were also starting blankly at this new intruder. What could it mean?

Curious as ever (because rats are nothing if not curious), she daintily pressed down on the shiny metal with her front paw…a tinny rattle followed, a slight ping caused her ears to prick and then voila! …A piece of new and tasty looking kibble fell neatly from the chute. After a few investigative nibbles, she could see that this kibble was far superior to anything she’d previously tasted.

This was, hands down, the BEST kibble ever.

She pushed the handle again, and after another rattle and ping, another piece appeared.

And another…and another…and another.

Around her, the cages shook with excitement as her neighbors made their own kibble discoveries.

Rattle. Ping. Prize.

Over and over again.

And then it stopped.

She pushed and pushed, but nothing appeared. She waited…then tried again.

Still nothing.

Her neighbors were also starting to experience a breakdown in this new kibble delivery system.

And then…just as she was about to give up…she tried one more push and was rewarded with that beautiful, lovely, anxiously anticipated and pleasure-everlasting rattle, ping, prize.

And so it went.

Rattle. Ping. Prize.

Push. Push. Push.

Inconsistent delivery kept all the rats attuned to their own kibble chutes. The wheels were left without spinning. The quiet cage corners without napping.

Rattle. Ping. Prize.

Push. Push. Push.

After a few days, the researchers stopped the experiment – afraid their rat-tailed friends would rattle-ping-prize themselves into ill health and, quite possibly, death.

The rattle-ping-prize had become addictive.

The experiment had proved its point.

When the reward is inconsistently given, we will just keep pushing that lever…over and over and over again.

Hoping each time, that the next rattle-ping-push will be prize enough to overcome all the push-push-push that keeps us wanting more.

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