Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Stop Blaming The Mom For Harambe's Death

Right off the bat I'm going to say I'm saddened by the shooting of Harambe, the silverback Gorilla who had the misfortune of encountering a human child in his pen. If given a choice between Harambe being alive and him being dead, and all other things being equal, I'd have living. We can argue over whether it was necessary to shoot Harambe right in that moment, but I think we can all agree his death could have been prevented in one way or another.

But the meme going around suggesting Harambe was was doing a better job parenting than the child's actual parent? It isn't true. It has to stop.

Few of us are veterinarians, and even fewer of those commenting on Facebook about Harambe's unfortunate end know a single thing about gorilla behavior. Was he protecting the child, endangering it, preparing to attack it? We don't know. That isn't  to say someone doesn't know. I'm sure some people can watch the video and figure it out, but the armchair parent watching the video simply can't. What looks to you and me like loving behavior may well not have been. What looks threatening might not be. We simply don't know. Could they have used  a tranquilizer gun? Sure, they could have. Would that have worked? I don't know.

You know who does know? The people who decided to shoot him.

Not for nothing, that probably wasn't the least expensive route for the zoo; keeping him alive probably was. So the zoo - guessing here that live gorilla > dead gorilla - acted against its own economic interest. Had they tranq'd him and he killed the child in a fit of rage, I'm sure the zoo's economic motivation would have featured prominently. Sometimes you can't win.

You know who else isn't winning? The parents.

And I want to be very clear that we need to say "parents." All the memes I've seen have cast a lot of crap on the Mom, who admittedly was the parent who was there at the time. But why not the Dad? Why wasn't Dad around? The Mom clearly had a lot of kids with her, from the reports I've seen, so why wasn't Dad around to help?

Regardless, I don't think you can blame the Mom.

I see and hear a lot of people, like the meme I mentioned above, suggesting that the Mom was negligent. Some people even want police to charge her. Have these people ever cared for a 4-year-old child? People are asking what the Mom was doing while her child crawled over the barrier.

She was probably mothering her other kids, I'm guessing.

Having triplets I can tell you that you can't watch them all at once. When my wife and I take them to the pool, we do our level best to keep and eye on all three. But two sets of eyes can only look in two directions, and guess what, having triplets means you have three directions in which to look.

Just last summer a similar thing happened to me. Boy 1 got out of the pool and we took off his swimmie. This is a not inconsequential detail, since having just turned 4 he couldn't swim a lick yet. Taking off his swimmie was the sign he had just gotten out of the pool for the day.  He walked over to the chair. He was done. With him out of the pool, I turned my attention to my other boy, who needed something and was in the water.

And in jumped Boy 1. I didn't even really realize what was going on until he was waist level in chest-high water. How long was I not paying attention? Probably 15 seconds. Just long enough to turn my head down to Boy 2 in the water and ask him a question. Without any swimming skills and no flotation device he just... sank like a rock. And of course he didn't know to hold his breath.

That is how long it takes for a situation to turn deadly.

He came up a sputtering, crying mess, but he was OK. That is my Harambe moment. Thankfully it was less dangerous and turned out OK. My point is: it can happen to you. That the lucks have smiled on you doesn't make you a better parent.

So its entirely possible the Mom was acting every bit the good parent and still is getting shit on. Remember that time your kids somehow climbed up on the dining room table without you knowing? That is the same exact situation this Mom is in, except her kid fell into a gorilla pit.

Was the Mom doing a good job? I don't know. You don't know either. Like trying to judge the behavior of a gorilla without any knowledge about how they act,  we simply don't have enough facts. We don't have any evidence about what she was doing prior to her son's fall. Parenting is a moving target full of nuance. Maybe you would act the same way as that Mom and get lucky, as most everyone does. Maybe you think you would watch your kid closer. The fact that a 1-100,000 chance event occurred here doesn't make one choice wrong.

I would go on, but I suggest you read this piece, which says the rest of what I want to say much better than I can.

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