On a sunny Memorial Day weekend in Cincinnati, a three-year-old boy traversed a barricade and tumbled into the watery mote that divides zoo spectators from its magnificent family of silverback gorillas.
What ensured was horrifying. The boy was dragged through the mote, up its wall, and into the gorilla exhibit by Harambe, the 400-lb. alpha male of the family. Harambe, perhaps driven more by protective than aggressive instincts, was shot and killed by zookeepers to prevent further injury of the boy. Thankfully, the boy is fine.
The ordeal was heartbreaking.
Equally heartbreaking were the subsequent blame and judgment cast upon both the boy's parents, who lost track of their son for what was probably only a minute or two, and the zookeepers, who were forced to make a split-second decision to either spare the life of a 400-lb. gorilla with dubious motives, or save the tiny human whose fate resided in his leathery mitts. Zookeepers chose the latter and everyone, everywhere had something to say about it.
Miles away from the epicenter of such events, safe behind the motes of liquid crystal displays and anonymous user names, so many of us become experts at fault-finding and finger-pointing. The boy's parents or the zookeepers should have done this or shouldn't have done that. It's funny how those least qualified to render an opinion are often the first to do so.
As any parent can attest, what happened last weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo could have happened anywhere, to anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or creed. Parents get distracted, overwhelmed, and, sometimes, we simply lose sight of our children.
I know. It happened to me.
While walking at a local park a few years ago, I let my (then) nine-year-old son ride his bike on the trail alongside me and my eleven-year-old daughter. As we entered the home stretch of our stroll, I scanned the horizon for the boy who, just moments ago, in flash of blue and green, whizzed past his sister and me.
There was no kid. No bike. Only a sea of unrecognizable faces.
I called for him, lest he be climbing a nearby tree, but heard nothing. I asked several other walkers if they had seen a kid matching his description. They had not.
It was as if my son had simply vanished from the trail.
On a busy park Sunday, I was alone, with a child who was not old enough to be left by herself, in search of a missing child who, I assumed, was not capable of finding the car, which we had parked in an unusually faraway location. What's more, because the park path is miles long and circular, it was impossible for me to tell if, by continuing forward on the path to look for him, I would be walking toward or away from my son.
Having watched a few too many episodes of "Unsolved Mysteries," my mind immediately started caving in on itself. With dry mouth and a racing heart, I forced my sweaty fingers to dial 9-1-1.
It was at precisely this time that some neighbors happened by me on the path and asked if I needed help. Yes. Please. Thank you. The couple quickly set off toward the car to see if, by chance, my son had found his way back to it.
In what felt like hours (but was probably only minutes--I was too disoriented to verify this), my phone rang. On the line was a Seattle police officer, kindly requesting that I return to my vehicle immediately.
Out of breath, I approached the car, where my son stood up and asked, indignantly, "What took you so long to get here?!?" Balanced on a thin line between wanting to both strike and hug this child, I simply kissed his head and told him I was glad he was safe.
Though my brief nightmare ended on a high note, driving away from the park that day, I realized that, just as easily, things could have turned out differently. In fact, we are all a split second away from a complete change in life course.
So why do humans assign blame when we could be doling out compassion and grace to those directly impacted by luckless twists of fate? The simple answer: ego protection.
We blame when the reality of our own vulnerability threatens to overwhelm us. Despite our best efforts, sometimes, bad things happen to good people and we are helpless to stop it. In the subterranean layers of our consciousness, we know this, yet blame helps us slough off the existential pain associated with how little in life we can actually control.
Blame allows us to delude ourselves that we are superior to the leading actors in any unfortunate drama--that we are somehow less susceptible than other people to misfortune.
Finally, blame simply lets us be a little more "right." And, boy, does that feel good.
Though blame may momentarily protect our fragile egos, it is an hapless barricade to love. Blame doesn't solve anything. It just makes those directly involved feel worse than they already do. By focusing on who *caused* the problem, we are unavailable to the people who need us to be part of the solution.
Blame stymies the grace and compassion we all deserve when bad things happen.
The event at the Cincinnati Zoo did not happen to bad parents or evil zookeepers. It happened to good, imperfect human beings who did the best they could with the resources available to them at the time.
In blame, we are divided. In compassion, we are one. The child who fell into the primate exhibit in Cincinnati is my child. He is yours. He is ours.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
Keep your personal growth wardrobe up to date. Sign up for my monthly newsletter!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.