A Call For Empathy: Response to Cincinnati Zoo Incident

A call for (1)

In case you haven’t heard, there was an incident at the Cincinnati Zoo that resulted in an injured little boy, and the death of an endangered gorilla.

As soon as I heard about it, I knew that it was going to blow up on the Internet. I prayed that the family involved would stay away from the backlash.

I made the mistake of reading comment threads from different reports. I couldn’t believe the hate and anger I saw directed toward the mother, the child, and the zoo. I saw people saying it would have been better if the child had been left to die, that the mother should be arrested or shot herself, and that she probably didn’t even want her son and encouraged it.

It was a tragic event. It’s very sad that a living being was killed, especially because he was likely trying to protect that child in the only way he knew how. And it’s okay to mourn the loss of Harambe, the gorilla. When I looked at his picture, it made me very sad.

But what is not okay is the hate. The blame. The threats.

We live in a “gotcha” society – it’s like people always waiting for someone to make a mistake. There’s apparently no such thing as an accident. Someone always has to be at fault and pay for it over and over – fault that is usually placed by those who may have forgotten that they, too, have made mistakes or lapses in judgment.

I’ve read several accounts about what happened and how the events unrolled (this being the most detailed.)  No matter what happened, I can almost guarantee that mother will probably never forgive herself for letting go of her son and him almost losing his life.

I doubt she went to the zoo that day thinking, “Hmm, I bet my son is going to fall into a gorilla cage today!” When he said that he wanted to go in, she probably laughed and told him no. Three-year-olds always say things like that – how could she have known he actually would? Yes, we need to teach our children to listen. But I don’t know any person who has a child who always obeys – especially a three-year-old. We cannot always control our children’s actions. She probably never would have thought he would do what he did.

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She is human. She probably got distracted as most of us do. Maybe it was by her phone; maybe it was by another child. Regardless, she shouldn’t be burned at the stake for it. As John 8:7 says, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

As I watched the responses unfold, I couldn’t help but think that what we need to show is empathy. If you were in that situation, isn’t that what you would want? We don’t always need to put the blame on someone. When someone makes a mistake, they will probably beat themselves up about it more than you know. We don’t need to do that for them.

Why can’t we offer support instead? Accept that people make mistakes. Know that someday it might be YOU that is being publicly ridiculed for something.

Yes, we absolutely need to be responsible for our actions. But what parent hasn’t made a mistake or error in judgment? Could she really just be a horrible, nasty parent? Well, sure. But from things I’ve read about her, that isn’t the case. She was distracted, as many of us have been, and all of this unfolded.

While I’ve never lost my son at a zoo and had him fall into a gorilla cage, I have lost my son. And it was horrible. He ended up okay, but I still beat myself up about it. I can’t imagine how would feel if something had happened.

So as you think about what happened, take a step away from your computer, and consider doing this:

Show empathy to a child who will probably be traumatized for a long time for doing what so many other three-year-olds do – whatever they want.

Show empathy to the mother who will probably never forgive herself for taking her eyes off her son, regardless of the reason. You never know when you might be the one whose parenting is under public scrutiny.

Show empathy to the zoo personnel who had to kill an animal they loved dearly. I’m sure they wept and wish the barrier had been just a little more secure.

Feel sad about the death of Harambe. He did not deserve to die for doing what gorillas do. But that child did not deserve to die either. It was a lose-lose situation from the moment that child fell, and regardless of how it happened, the priority was (rightfully so) getting him out alive, and thank goodness they did. No one knows what could have happened.

The zoo made the best decision in a difficult situation. Could it have been prevented? Yes. But no amount of anger, mean comments, or petitions can’t change what happened. All it does is breed bitterness and contention, which helps no one. All we can do is accept it, learn from it, and become better from it. We live in a world full of distractions – can’t we all maybe try and limit those a little more?

Finally, remember that even though you think something would never happen to you, it can. Tragedies happen in an instant. People take their eyes off of their children for a moment. Kids are FAST, especially when they are determined. Bad things happen even in the best of circumstances. Even the best parent can make a mistake.  No one is exempt.

Showing empathy has the power to change hearts, minds, and the world. And it’s something our world desperately needs. You never know when you’ll be the one hoping for that empathy.


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  • Very well said. I am the mother of 4 boys (all grown up now) and the grandmother of 10 grandkids and in the blink of an eye they can get into mischief. I pray for this mother and hope she can put this behind her. Not all of us think bad of her at all. Sad about the gorilla, he will be missed. Let us learn from this and move on. Again thank you for your article it is well written and it's sad the hate that is out there.
    • Thank you for your comment. I think that there is a lot of love and support from people when things like this happen, but that often gets overshadowed by all of the negativity =(
  • I agree with your comments of empathy. We must also show empathy for the wild animals that awful humans keep imprisoned for the enjoyment of an ungrateful mankind. They are the ones torn from their families, kept in unnatural confinement all for the greed of humans. God wanted man to have dominion over the animals, but it did not mean to be cruel and unjust to them. This gorilla should not have died.
  • I agree with everything you said! Beautifully written. Sometime accidents just happen, it's part of the human experience. Empathy and understanding are always the best course to take. And gratitude. Gratitude that this time it wasn't our human imperfection that caused someone else to suffer.
    • Thanks Kara. You are right. Mistakes and accidents happen to all of us. I wish more people would be willing to show empathy and understanding instead of hatred.

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