Monday, August 15, 2016

Friday, June 3, 2016

A lot of talk about gorillas

I'm a little biased

I have a YouTube channel that was built on a video of a Gorilla in Louisville. The traffic to my channel skyrocketed this week with the events that transpired in Cincinnati.

If you've been living under a rock, the short story is that a four year old boy jumped into an open air enclosure where Gorillas live at the Cincinnati Zoo. A 17 year old Silverback named Harambee grabbed the boy and after nearly 10 minutes the Zoo opted to shoot the gorilla to save the boy.

A culture that loves absolutes

Many people took to their keyboards in outrage. It seems there were lots of very strong opinions about this issue. I can see why. People are passionate about animals. Gorillas are very human-like and so people felt especially connected to the victim of the events as they unfolded. And of course, people like to draw simple conclusions based on limited information.

This highlights, to me, an issue with our society today. We have a lot of people who feel qualified to render opinions based on their feelings rather than facts. America in 2016 celebrates the individual more than they deserve. We value feelings to an unhealthy degree. We use expressions such as, "He's just living his truth" as if the truth is somehow subjective now and fluid enough that it can change from individual to individual.

What's worse yet is that people feel qualified enough to engage others in a very unfiltered and hostile way. I'm not sure if we forget that we're speaking to other human beings when there is a screen between us and them, or if we're just so high on ourselves that we just simply don't care about other people. Either reason is unacceptable. People take polarizing views and once the lines between sides are drawn then microscopic online wars begin between opposing factions.

In this case, I think two polarizing opinions began to surface

The first is that the mother is a horrible person. Many keyboard activists rushed to assign blame, because if you can blame someone for feeling bad then you can redirect your negative emotions and feel better through self righteousness.  The mother was called negligent and further publicly crucified for failing to leap into the enclosure herself to save her child.

Let's think critically about that though... if your child is in the clutches of a wild animal who isn't brutally killing them, will your first inclination be to plunge 20 feet into the enclosure (risking your life in the fall) to try and take the child by force? The Silverback Gorilla has been estimated to be 400 times stronger than a man. I know adrenaline enables some pretty amazing things, but one Mom (who still had to watch her other children) vs a gorilla isn't a fair fight. Furthermore, just entering the cage would have further provoked the animal, and if the gorilla HAD killed the mom or boy, it would have been euthanized anyway. A co-worker shared with me that one of her friends thinks the zoo should have shot the Mom! There's some logical thinking there.

The second opinion is that the Cincinnati Zoo was somehow at fault for shooting the Harambee. Memes a' plenty have been posted about how Harambee was just protecting the boy. Swarms of folks acting as wildlife experts specializing in Gorillas suggested either Harambee wasn't a risk to the child or that a tranquilizer would be a sufficient solution.

Experts stepped in quickly to explain that a tranquilizer was a bad solution as they can take several minutes to work (contrary to what experts have learned after watching James Bond movies). They also postulated that an 800 lb animal might find it aggravating to have a needle tipped dart shot into its skin. You certainly don't want to further agitate an animal already on high alert from the reaction of the crowd and the fact that a small human just leapt into your home.

What if they're both wrong?

What if the Mother wasn't a terrible person? Maybe she was tired and juggling several children and one just broke away? Perhaps she's a great person and a wonderful mother and her child was just being a stupid kid and did something unexpected before she could intervene.

What if the Zoo did the right thing? They were surely invested both financially and emotionally in the gorilla. The last thing they want to do is end the life of an animal they raised. Perhaps the person behind the trigger was attached to the animal and shooting it was like that scene from Old Yeller where he or she knew it was the right thing, but it destroyed them inside to do it.

Maybe this was nobody's fault. Can we deal with that? That bad things happen and sometimes there is no good reason?

Sure, it may take a level of level headedness and maturity to comprehend. Sure, it won't make our feelings about a bad situation any better. But perhaps, when we read something on the internet that makes us so enraged that people are suggesting we shoot a mother, what we really need is to step away from the keyboard.

Know what will make you feel better about reading something bad? Doing something good. So if you were really, profoundly impacted by this incident, know that I don't fault you. But instead of posting hateful memes on your wall... maybe you should make a donation to a wildlife cause or volunteer to help these animals. Put your money and your time where your mouth is. Only typing your opinion in heated online debate changes nothing.