The recent incident at the Cincinnati Zoo where a young male gorilla was dispatched without care for interacting with an unharmed child after it fell into the exhibit has gotten many people into an uproar. Most of the raging controversy stems from whether or not the gorilla should have been shot dead or not. There is, however, a whole onslaught of pandemonium rising over the blame of the parents for allowing such a tragic, and deadly for the young, endangered gorilla, experience from taking place. Everyone thinks they are the worst parents now. They should be punished for neglect. They are to blame. They should have been vigilant over their child and none of this should have happened. The gorilla would still be alive if it weren’t for their inattentiveness.
But it is NOT their fault. Not alone, at least.
Only in a perfect world could it ever be remotely logical to hold those parents solely responsible. If blame must be placed and anyone needs to be held accountable, it is the entire community as a whole. Society, if you will. Hundreds of people were in that zoo. All of them congregating in the same place, yet completely unaware of one another. A place designed for families, nonetheless. The majority of these visitors were probably families with kids in tow. Everybody was only concerned about themselves, paying no heed to anything going on around them that wasn’t part of the animal attractions they were there for. All those people mingling in each other’s personal space, coming from the same common ground as parents making memories with their children, and not one felt any sense of unity in being there together; lost in their own worlds. Where were any one of those people who bore witness to the terrifying events that occurred as the child made it’s way through not one, but two barricades before falling two-stories down into a moat of water?
OH, YEAH. That’s right. They were standing right there lost in their own memory makings with those they belong to and the animals they came to see, with no care for anyone else around.
None of the other life around them was worth their attention for a split second. Not that all the hundreds of people that were there that day were all at that one gorilla exhibit simultaneously, but I’ll be damned if there was at least one adult standing there, the news reports account at least a dozen it seems. Either way, each and every one of those people could have prevented this entire ordeal from happening. They were unaware as much as the parents who weren’t even as close, as the child had ran off a bit. As children do. It happens to the very best of parents. Grandparents. Nannies. Babysitters.
In fact, my husband and I accompanied our four year old to the zoo for a preschool field trip. She is a very curious, strong-willed, and free-spirited child who fears nothing and embraces her independence. She ran off on us no less than a half dozen times. Once while we were checking with staff about an animal who looked by all means dead in the exhibit (thankfully, the weirdos just sleep that way and it is very hard to see them breathing, even that close up). At this age, impulse control is worse than ever because the littles have gotten a taste of the existential freedoms life outside of Mom and Dad’s protective arms hold. Older toddlers and young preschoolers are hardwired for such inquisitivity to foster learning development. You may as well have a pet rodent at this stage – 3- and 4-year olds are lightening quick, rather sneaky, good at blending in, focus-driven yet simultaneously indecisive, and extremely eager to test all boundaries and obstacles, especially when they have a mission in mind needing to be accomplished. They will give their parents hell all in the name of growing up. There is no way to keep them still and tame their wanderlust, short of putting them on a leash or strapping them down to something they cannot unbuckle on their own; revoking the freedom they treasure as greatly as the love of their parents and nurtures their love of knowledge and discovery. (Good luck enjoying your family adventure after doing as much, too, because you’ll find the mood of your preschooler as constricted as they are while physically under restraint – much like the very animals they came to see.)
People wouldn’t need to worry about incidences like this one if society still held any value in the village raising the child. We could have faith that in the struggle to keep up with someone younger, prettier, and lighter on their feet all while trying to assert the boundaries and self-control you are working to instill in them, you know there is the support of the community surrounding you to back you up. To step in if it becomes apparent your child could be in serious danger. To offer you a hand when you look worn out or confused about how to handle a situation. To be a second of set of eyes, hands, and legs always present in a crowd. Not in a “you’re doing it wrong and someone needs to teach you to parent right” perspective, but in a “been there, done/doing that and we’re all just trying to figure it out and do what is best for our own families” way. It takes more than ten seconds to climb through two barriers before falling into harm’s path.
If we cared for humanity a little more and our outward appearances and possessions a little less, someone would have had eyes on that child as it slipped away.
We are all to blame for failing not only the child, but the child’s parents and the gorilla, too, in this situation. There’s no two ways about it.
And while we’re casting the blame around instead of taking the high road of compassion, let’s bring up the fact that every single one of those bystanders who allowed the child past them unnoticed, did nothing to protect anyone but their own shared DNA by ignoring the going ons around them. Only when it was too late did anyone decide they finally wanted to get involved. By screaming. Running and panicking, like a herd of antelope with hyenas biting on their heels; no logic or reason to their actions at all, just sheer panic. Definitely not very conducive to saving the life of a child who’s fallen in the home of a scared and confused wild animal of powerful force. Or the poor animal wondering why this is all happening to his typically calm, quiet environment. Panicking is something untamed, uneducated animals do. Not humans who can think conscious thoughts and rationalize in a situation using the higher intelligence we were gifted with, being at the top of the animal kingdom and all. It didn’t take a genius to know the zoo staff would handle the crisis and any unusual noise and ruckus could make the situation go from bad to worse. Yeah, it was probably scary sight to see. There’s no denying that. Yet, here people are, verbally beating down a mother for her child’s lack of impulse control while overlooking the fact that those bystanders couldn’t even control their own impulse to freak the freak out – something that accomplished nothing more than riling up the gorilla more than it already was with the surprise package that dropped over the side of its enclosure.
Shit happens. That’s why humans are social creatures. We live in communities and build families so we can support one another. Lend help, lift each other up, and stand behind others so they can accomplish, succeed, and overcome all that life throws in the way. Trashing parents for something purely accidental, no matter how tragic the event actually was, just proves how far we have come away from our humanity, the very thing defining us above all other species. We are receding back towards the ways of our not-so distant cousins – those same overly territorial gorillas who have no problems killing others of their own kind for not being of the same bloodline. Selling each other out for a moment of superiority is something expected from an animal with no empathy or compassion, not a human being.
It is way beyond time to bring back the village mentality. Stop throwing around blame and looking to judge others for faults and failures we are all equally susceptible to. Unless, of course, we prefer to be apes again – because that is all we are doing when casting stones for the sake of a temporary sense of power – acting like the very animals we cage in the zoo. Might as well just be a gorilla then.