Hatred corrodes the container it is carried in – Ancient Proverb
I hated reading Curious George books to my kids when they were younger.
Oddly enough I found myself humming the theme song from the TV show the other day when I was buttering toast…which is a tribute to how utterly strange the cerebral cortex is.
I stopped mid-song and started wondering why I dislike that curious little monkey who seems to delight many others with his hi-jinx.
In case it’s been a long while since you’ve been exposed: Curious George is a monkey that lives with his adoptive “parent” figure, known only by the name “the man in the yellow hat”. Aside from that unusual (creepy?) moniker, he seems to be some sort of underemployed yet preoccupied naturalist that has “rescued” this adolescent monkey. They live together in an upscale apartment in Manhattan’s upper west side. (Clearly there’s an interesting, perhaps dark and appalling backstory we’re not being told about where this money has come from and what the true motives of this guy are) George seems adequately kept, but is regularly left unsupervised and given unending opportunity to cause calamity. Regardless of whether George accidentally launches nuclear missiles or unleashes a small pox epidemic, everyone laughs it off in the end and grants complete forgiveness to this monkey simply because he is who he is. They are always able to easily fix whatever destruction he caused (within two pages of a book) and while some lesson is offered, it appears George has no interest in learning it as he moves on to another catastrophe in the next episode.
And it’s this that makes me angry…to the point of hating this curious little monkey that never employs an ounce of frontal lobe to think things through or heed the warnings of his delinquent care giver.
Now that kind of disproportionate response might suggest to some of you that I need to talk to someone, perhaps a professional, because clearly my issues are bigger than a harmless children’s book. Which is where you come in – I’m talking this one through out loud to see if I can get some clarity, and you get listen and nod, and perhaps write some kind of gentle response if I’m missing anything.
For starters, some might say that hate is an awfully strong word to use – and you might be right. Lots of us exercise a strong hesitancy to label our own feelings as hate, because we wisely see the peril in exaggerating the severity of our negative feelings towards something or someone. It’s interesting to me that we rarely exercise the same caution with the word “love”. I’ve not really heard anyone say, “well I shouldn’t say I love chocolate, I really strongly like it, but I’ll save the word love for things that really matter”. I can appreciate the wisdom of not getting into the habit of using the word “hate” too casually, dropping it on everything from movies that end poorly to sub-par food and things just generally not working out so that we walk around saying “I hate it when my car isn’t ready at the precise time the mechanic promised me”. But this judicious use of the word (I’m all for being careful with words) may tempt us to play a trick on ourselves. Maybe I’m not the only one who declines to use the word “hate” in the guise of being careful, when really we’re just covering up our true feelings and acting like we don’t hate things or people when we actually do. The mislabelling of hate, can be a handy tool for entering into denial. If I only “really dislike” someone, I can easily ignore the feelings and ill effects such feelings have on me.
See, it would have been easy to tell you I have a strong negative reaction towards that curious little monkey…which wouldn’t have made for a very interesting piece, but would have made me look quite a bit more rational and emotionally balanced. But it’s not true. I don’t just prefer not to read about his shenanigans, I really did find myself hating – at least what he and his delinquent owner represent. I think lots of us back away from our hate or outright deny it, but in doing so carry around a lot of corrosive thoughts and feelings.
So why hate the monkey and his “man with the yellow hat”?
I know that I should just be able to give Curious George a pass for constantly causing problems with no apparent learning or development of foresight – he is a monkey, and a young one at that. But I think it’s his happy-go-lucky, follow my curiosity wherever it leads lifestyle that gets me angry. It occurs to me after a little contemplation that perhaps I’m jealous of the monkey, and not only because he gets to live rent-free in a sweet pad in NYC. Remember when we were allowed to follow our curiosity wherever it led? Lots of us, when we were kids lived like this. An idea would take hold of us and we would pursue it as far as it took us. Imagination and investigation were unbridled forces that led us to explore the world without any concern for things like practicality or consequences. Before “reality” and responsibility became these monolithic forces in our lives as adults, we were once the kind of creatures that behaved like Curious George.
It’s sad that I resent him for it. A cute little monkey behaving impishly and here I am projecting my own frustration with adulthood. I suspect that I’m not the only one who hates certain things not because of what they are, but because of what they represent to us in our own troubled internal worlds. Deep down there may be parts of us that long for a life that could be lived primarily around what we’re interested in and curious about rather than feeling enslaved to the frantic demands of obligation, responsibility, and expectations. And while it may not be “realistic” or even good for me to adopt a Curious George lifestyle, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some value to paying attention to what this anger/hatred teaches me about my own need to give more space to curiosity in my life?
But it’s the “man with the yellow hat” that really bothers me because I expect him to know better. He’s the adult, the caregiver, the one from whom I expect a higher level of responsibility and foresight. How does he rationalize this parental negligence? One would assume that after your monkey nearly drowns or crashes a backhoe into city hall, that you might adopt a slightly more restrictive approach to child care. But each new episode he’s off to some important meeting and leaving the monkey to wonder around with only a simple admonition about not causing trouble. It makes me wonder, “does he really care, or is he just milking this monkey adoption thing as part of some reality show deal to sell books and TV shows?”
I’m disgusted by his parenting. (the emotion of disgust is a big red flag for hatred) When I calm down I recognize that this failure to appropriately monitor and mentor George is just the schtick that works from a publishing perspective: a formula the author dare not tamper with or else the whole glorious empire comes unravelled. The “man with a yellow hat” is really only idiot because it keeps selling books. One might have assumed I would recognize that this was a work of fiction and not get so riled up about cartoon characters. But we humans often overreact to very innocuous things precisely because our inner worlds are constantly shaping how we perceive the world outside. And my reaction is once again telling of my own issues with people not taking responsibility or giving adequate care. I’m offended by the “man with the yellow hat” because I see the consequences of failed and inadequate parenting in my professional work. I’m bothered by lack of consequences in this series because I witness a world in which we as a species so often seem oblivious to how our actions are impacting each other and our natural environment…and it scares me.
Being careful, being responsible, thinking ahead and thinking things through – those are some of my best defences against a dangerous and threatening world. I might be jealous of the childlikeness of George, but I’m angry and threatened by adults who seem inattentive to what I perceive as unsafe. Does the “man with the yellow hat” drive as negligently as he parents? If so, I don’t want to be on the road with him. Will he be raising his monkey to be a respectful and kind person? If not, I don’t want him bringing George to the same school my kids go to.
Hatred so often follows fear. We develop these angry and aggressive feelings and behaviours because we so desperately want to protect ourselves from some kind of perceived threat. It may seem absurd to you that these characters in a children’s series could tap my fears and elicit this response. And yes, after writing this I see now that I don’t hate Curious George – my feelings are about what he and his “parent” represent (to me). But maybe I’m not the only one who feels threatened by negligence, chaos, or a lack of appreciation of the consequences that certain choices have on other people? Maybe I’m not the only one who defends himself against these things by overly identifying with responsibility, planning, and social consciousness?
As we become increasingly afraid of suffering and pain and work ever more diligently to avoid it, we rely more and more on costly defences to protect ourselves. Hatred is a self-destructive defence against a frightening world.
So while it’s tempting to pick a group of people (immigrants, republicans, liberals, religious folk, the government, cashiers at ikea, etc.) and see them as the source of our difficulty or the embodiment of what scares us, this is a very costly defence against our own anxiety about the world. It strips both those we hate and ourselves of our humanity. We become split into categories of good and bad, righteous and sinner, or angel and demon.
It may be seem harmless to hate a cartoon monkey and his adult friend because there appear to be no real victims. But within my heart and mind if I cultivate hatred, it is but a short step to hating real people. And even if I never act on this hatred it does something to me. It corrodes me from the inside out. It happens so slowly it’s almost unnoticeable.
Sadly, hatred doesn’t actually protect us from those things we fear, it only creates an illusion of safety.
Hating Curious George and “the man with the yellow hat” may obscure my sadness over losing some of my playful, curious side, and it may allow me to ignore some of the terrible vulnerability I feel as a parent trying to protect to my kids, but it ultimately becomes just another damaging form of avoidance.
Humming that theme song while buttering toast brings me to a fork in the road. I can choose to focus on how justified my hatred of the monkey and his negligent caregiver are, or I can choose to push through my avoidance and look at the things that scare me. And, while I’m lost in this train of thought, perhaps I should stop my ignoring my own children who need to get to school, preferably not wearing their pyjamas.