By Rev. Everette Chapman
One of the most familiar icons in our culture is that of the “Three Wise Monkeys,” showing one with his hands over his eyes, one with his hands over his ears, and the third with his hands over his mouth. The Three Wise Monkeys are a pictorial Japanese maxim embodying the proverbial principle, “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil.” The three monkeys are Mizaru, who sees no evil, covering his eyes; Kikazaru, who hears no evil, covering his ears; and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil, covering his mouth.
I cannot think of monkeys without thinking of my friend and Lake Lure’s former “First Lady,” Pam Keith, who is the proverbial Pollyanna. She comes as close to embodying the spirit of the Three Wise Monkeys as anyone I have ever known. I have kidded her about being so positive and upbeat that she would have said about Osama Bin Laden only that “He had such lovely eyes” or “I’ll bet he had a wonderful mother.”
Pam loves monkeys, and her home is filled with sock monkeys, plastic monkeys, all kinds of monkeys – and I am not talking about her husband, Bob; he is more like a wise old owl. Pam always signs the visitor’s register at church by drawing a clever little monkey. She loves monkeys, especially Coco, her sock monkey “child”. It was from Pam that I received my own little statuette of the Three Wise Monkeys.
It occupies a prominent place in my study at home. Whenever I glance at it, I think of Pam and wish that I could embody those wonderful traits represented by Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru. I dearly wish I could refrain from seeing evil, hearing evil, and speaking evil. It would be a worthy endeavor for all of us, wouldn’t you agree?
Whenever I look at the wise monkeys, I also think of another set of such monkeys I once saw on the desk of Dean Wilson, who back in the day was Dean of Women at what was then Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia. Longwood is now co-educational and has achieved university status. She was so very much like Pam Keith, positive, joy-producing, pleasant, and always helpful.
There was a difference in Dean Wilson’s monkeys. To be sure, they too were three in number. The one who normally covered her eyes was looking through binoculars. The one who normally had her hands over her ears, was using a listening horn. The one whose hands were normally muting her mouth was holding a megaphone. Needless to say, I was fascinated with Dean Wilson’s little desk figurines and have sought ever since to find such an article for my own desk.
When I saw her trio of simians, which seemed to be suggesting “See all evil, hear all evil, and speak all evil,” I asked that sweet lady if that was what the statuette meant to her. She smiled that sweet, understanding smile of hers and protested, “No that is not what I want those monkeys to convey to me. In fact, the reason I bought them was because I wanted to convey something totally different.”
She went on to explain: “I want my philosophy of life to be to ‘See good in all things, all people, and all circumstances. I want to listen for all the good things I can hear, about people, about situations, about the world itself, and about God. And I want to say only good things, to people, about people, on behalf of people. That’s what those little monkeys mean to me.”
Instead of simply not seeing, hearing, or speaking evil, Dean Wilson wanted to see, hear, and speak good. Wow! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were surrounded with more persons with that philosophy of life? Wouldn’t it be even more exciting, rewarding, and helpful if you and I adopted and lived out such attitudes?
Those original Japanese monkeys were called Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru. What would these wonderfully different, positive, helpful, and caring monkeys be called? Could it be “faith, hope, and love,” or perhaps simply Christ-likeness? O Lord, help us to be more like Dean Wilson’s super-sensitive, satisfying, and soul-settling simians.
Rev. Everette Chapman is Pastor Emeritus of Fairfield Mountains Chapel, Lake Lure.