By Brandon Matthews

Many families have made this place a vacation destination for decades. It has been called the “Happiest Place on Earth,” and “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” Through their numerous larger-than-life events, they have earned the nickname “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” However, what may have made them even more famous is an acting, singing, and dancing mouse named Mickey. No one runs from this mouse or works to remove him; they actually line up for hugs and photographs.

Have you solved the mystery yet? Of course, you have, we are talking about Walt Disney World! This may be the most famous park with the star of the show being a rodent, but did you know there was actually another park? The other park may be even more impactful than Disney. I’ll save you the mystery, this one is called “Rat Park.”

Once upon a time, a study was conducted where rats were placed alone in a small cage with nothing but the options of water and drug water. The outcome each time was rats that died of overdoses. It was concluded that a rat would always choose the destructive substance. This was typically applied to basic human nature. This was until the 1970s when Dr. Bruce Alexander challenged this theory and opened “Rat Park.”

Dr. Alexander believed the rat’s environment played more of a role than the substance itself. To test this hypothesis, he opened Rat Park providing the rats with a larger cage, toys and activities, and most importantly, other rats to interact with. Also included in Rat Park were the same two options of water and drug water. His results were stunning, not one rat overdosed or died inside of Rat Park.

I know what you’re thinking, what does this story of parks containing rats mean for me? It means that your social environment makes all of the difference. The places you go. The friends that you choose. The activities that you participate in. These all make a difference in your life. I want to encourage you today to inspect the environments of your life. What could improve at home, at work, in your community, or in your school? Should you change some activities, some friends, some goals, or some habits?

You may never visit Rat Park, but you can carry the lesson with you. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Go change your world.

Brandon Matthews is the For Tomorrow Program Director.