I posted the above image on LinkedIn earlier this week.  We’re all familiar with the famous image of the three seated monkeys.   The source of this popular pictorial maxim is a 17th-century carving over a door of the famous Toshogu shrine in Nikko, Japan. The carvings at Toshogu Shrine were attributed to Hidari Jingoro and believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct.  Together they embody the proverbial principle to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. The three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil. Sometimes there is a fourth monkey depicted with the three others; the last one, Shizaru, symbolizes the principle of ‘do no evil’. He may be shown crossing his arms or covering his genitals.  It’s said they represent the Japanese expression mi-zaru, kika-zaru, iwa-zaru, or ‘not seeing, not hearing, not speaking,’ in which the Japanese word zaru can also be associated with the word for monkey saru, providing a linguistic clue as to why it’s three gesturing monkeys being portrayed. 

 Of course, there have been many iterations of this famous image, such as the following, that speak very loudly about our modern state of affairs and the public distaste for politics and politicians.

The fourth monkey portrayed in the cover photo is, of course, depicting our contemporary obsession with our smart phones.  This in an age and culture where there seems nothing more important than staying connected to a virtual world and a virtual reality.  From toddler to octogenarian, we have all fallen hard for the lure of the glowing screen.

It’s a double-edged sword, that shinny bauble.   There in your hands is access to all the knowledge in the known world.  Yet most of us occupy ourselves more interested in comparing our lives on social media, playing mindless games or keeping up with the latest viral memes. 

As hard as it may be to comprehend, the iPhone was only introduced in 2007.  Before that we had to rely on hard-wired computers and mostly dial-up internet access to reach the world wide web.  For those of us over the age of 25, we should have some memory and perspective of a life unplugged – one where we still got our news from mostly reasonable and reliable sources and one where we still had to carry on conversations when in a room with another person - including our own families.

I’m the father of two daughters, one who falls into the millennial category at the age of 26.  The second is just 21 and there is some discussion if her age group qualifies as part of the millennial generation or that next generation.  That next generation has been tagged with the “Z” moniker, but perhaps a better name for this next generation would be the “AT” generation.  AT - as in the age of Alternative Truth.   

Of course, we can blame the internet for a lot of the problems in the world today.  That’s an easy excuse and the big social media companies have not exactly helped the cause by passively condoning misuse of their platforms and exposing us all to a torrential flood of misinformation.   Those who grew up always connected know no other reality and are often left to their own devices or their own social network to judge what is right and what is true.  We are living in a world where the truth is just someone else’s opinion. 

We can go back more than 25 years, to the birth of cable news and the advent of the 24-hour news channels.  Suddenly, news became a big business and a beast that needed to be fed around the clock.  Events like OJ Simpson and the live coverage of his white Bronco on a California freeway turned news into entertainment.  The constant flashing “BREAKING NEWS” scroll on the bottom of our TV screens long ago desensitized us. 

Our reality TV president has further blurred the lines.  We’re told not to pay attention to what he says or Tweets and assume this is all bluster and show.  It’s all about hits and ratings. 

Perhaps that fourth monkey has it right?  Sanity is either staying so connected that we’re completely detached from the real world or go completely off the grid and live as a hermit deep in the woods.  It’s a much more complicated world then the one we entered.  The change has come so quickly, that all we can do is react. 


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