Ears on the Wall Syndrome: The epitome of the four monkeys....

16 November 2012

The great Nationalist leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi of India, known throughout the world as Mahatma Gandhi, lived a life of non-violence. He inspired many civil-rights and freedom movements to seek and embrace independence. He advocated a lifestyle without possessions, and he had none except for the clothes on his back and a figurine of three monkeys.

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

The little wooden statue reminded Mahatma Gandhi of the basic principles that every human being should embrace in order to enjoy peace and freedom in the world. The statue of the three monkeys, of course, personified the great principles of  ‘see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil’; a fourth monkey, which symbolised the principle of ‘do no evil’ was, at times, also illustrated together with the three monkeys. The origin of the monkeys has been credited to a 17th century Japanese carving inspired by the teachings of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Confucius, in a 4th century BC work entitled Analects of Confucius, stated, “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.”

One of the things that struck me about the epitome of the four monkeys is the fact that Confucius’ original teaching had nothing to do with monkeys. It was the Japanese carver, Hidari Jingor, who not only used the monkeys to represent Confucius’ principles, but also recapitulated Confucius proverb into a simple Japanese dictum which said, Muzaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru, which is translated literally as ‘don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak;’ The fourth principle Shizaru literally means ‘don’t act.’ Question is, where do the monkeys come from?

Well, the suffix zaru sounds like saru, the Japanese word for monkey, and it led to the idea of using monkeys to epitomise Confucius’ principles. Furthermore, the four Japanese words that summarised the four principles became the names of the four monkeys; Mizaru, with eyes covered, sees no evil;  Kikazaru, with ears covered, hears no evil; Iwazaru, with the mouth covered, speaks no evil, and Shizaru, with arms crossed, does no evil.

The epitome of the four monkeys has been interpreted in many different ways to symbolise someone who is of sound mind, speech, and  deeds, and to emphasise the need to refrain from having evil thoughts, speech, and actions. But, in many Western cultures the maxim has been interpreted to symbolise people who lack moral responsibilities, especially those who turn a blind eye to corruption, injustice, evil, and the lack of wellbeing of the poor and under-privileged.

The epitome of the four monkeys came to me as I was watching Sheldon Cooper pitting his wits against a ‘dope’ smoking monkey in a recent episode of the television series The Big Bang Theory; and tried as he could, Sheldon lost the battle and had to endure a raspberry and an exposed monkey’s bare buttock. I said to myself, “monkey see, monkey do,” as the realisation dawned on me as to why Confucius original principles had nothing to do with monkeys when it comes to framing codes of conduct; because to emphasise monkeys rather than the principles intended, would be, as the American columnist Robert Benchley would say, “the surest way to make a monkey of a man.”

I immediately reflected on the principles John Key and his government had adhered to in recent months, as well as the values that had guided the behaviour of some opposition MPs within their own ranks. One thing is certain, the principles epitomised by the four monkeys have not been reflected in current government policies, and definitely not depicted in many of our MPs rhetoric of recent months. Instead, there have been a lot of monkey-ing around in the implementation and fulfilment of their duties; even to the point of imitating policies that would lead New Zealand to chaos.

One of the things I have noticed in recent government initiatives are the number of policies based on what other governments are implementing and advocating overseas. It seems many of John Key’s ministers are great imitators of foreign policies, which raises the question of just how intelligent and creative our policy makers in government have been.

Just this week the Corrections Minister Anne Tolley was thinking of implementing a British prison scheme called ‘Families First’ whereby inmates spend whole days with their children. The British scheme blends in very well with the British company Serco who runs Mt Eden Prison and are due to take over the running of the proposed Wiri Prison in 2015. Anne Tolley trying to imitate such a foreign scheme comes in the wake of other controversial overseas schemes such as Charter Schools, Partnership Schools, same-sex marriages, social welfare, employment initiative schemes, and so forth.

There seems to be a shortage of home-grown ideas on how to tackle many of our issues here at home, and our government and ministers are relying on overseas initiatives that have been tried and found wanting in some cases, and in the process we spend huge amount of money with little returns.

There is a need to curbed the imitation of  overseas schemes; it would only create far more problems than benefits, or as a South African expression would say, ‘If a monkey keeps on imitating everybody, the monkey will one day cut his own throat.’ The government needs to frame our own policies based on our own context and  societal norms, philosophy, and judgment.

Perhaps, the epitome of the four monkeys would be something for our many policy makers to consider.

But, closer to home this week, it seems some MPs in the Labour Party are seeing evil within their own ranks, as questions were once again raised regarding the leadership of David Shearer. The problem with many of the Labour MPs is that they hear too much evil being spoken of their leader and immediately see red, and instead of defending party solidarity some Labour MPs react with evil intentions, trying to drum up support for a challenge on David Shearer’s leadership. Bryce Edwards has summed up in his Political round-up: The writing is on the wall for David Shearer the views of many political analysts who have predicted the Labour leader’s demise.

The problem for many Labour MPs, and for many political analysts, is that they interpret David Shearer’s silence, lack of action, soft approach, and non-charismatic style as signs of weakness.

For me. personally, I believe these are David Shearer’s virtues, and he epitomises the principles that Confucius, and even Mahatma Gandhi, sought in a great leader. David Shearer’s approach should be more of a concern for John Key and the National Party, because they do not really know who they are really dealing with; David Shearer has so far done enough to do the job he is suppose to do.

Many MPs in the Labour Party want David Shearer to come out against John Key and the government with guns blazing and sword wielding. But David Shearer is smarter than that, and he knows very well that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He has chosen not to hear the evil speeches out there and has pushed aside the rumours of a leadership challenge, and he himself has refrained from speaking evil of those who are plotting his downfall.

David Shearer, given time, would make a great leader; after all, patience is a great virtue and for any political leader, it is an asset.

And while we are on the subject of virtues, John Key’s comment regarding David Beckham being thick as bat s***, and his reference to the ‘gay red top’ has prompted much debate here in New Zealand and overseas. For me, any tongue in cheek comments in the spirit of the moment, as Bob Jones pointed out recently in It’s retarded and gay not to see funny side of life, is all part of human communication in bonding.

However, my concern here relates to what many commentators believe constitute intelligence. In all the comments that I have seen, it seems intelligence is equated with academic prowess and the ability to articulate verbally. This so called European perception and definition of intelligence makes everyone who can speak more than one language, excel in sports, and who is a talented musician, artist, designer, but cannot articulate verbally in a conversation, thick as bat s***.

John Key and those who advocate intelligence in this manner seems to have embraced the monkeys without the principles they personify, and according to the Italian theologian Saint Bonaventura, the more they embrace such judgment the more they become unintelligent. Or as Saint Bonaventura would say with tongue in cheek, ‘the higher it [monkey] climbs, the more you see of its behind.’

The epitome of the four monkeys must strike a chord in the intelligence of our politicians and their supporters, and act accordingly. There are lessons to be learnt by our politicians here, especially the realisation that without principles, all that is left are monkeys.

There is nothing wrong with starting with a simple maxim such as ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and do no evil.’ It is a code of conduct in which Confucius wants all people, especially those in leadership, to emphasise ‘propriety’; that is, to show politeness, good manners, decency, modesty, respectability, and decorum, and above all, moral responsibilities for the wellbeing of the poor and under-privileged.

John Key and the government needs to see clearly what is happening to our people and not pretend nothing is wrong, because it makes one less intelligent than a monkey; or as the Mauritian writer and visionary Malcolm De Chazal aptly puts it, ‘monkeys are superior to men in this, when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.’

I challenge John Key to see beyond what the government wants to perceive, and perceive what the government has so far failed to see. In doing so, we will have a heaps of healthier and happier New Zealanders who will continue to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…


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