Nearly everyone has read by now of the unfortunate shooting of the gorilla named Harambe at the Cincinnati zoo the other day. Animal activists are outraged. The barrier, they say, around the gorilla pen should have been impenetrable. Maybe they also think the zoo keepers should have been more resourceful in saving the 4-year-old (some accounts say 3-year-old) who entered the enclosure. But zoo staff saw a child in the hands of an adult male gorilla and took quick, sure action. (This stands in contrast to the staff at the Palm Beach zoo a few weeks ago who chose to shoot a tranquilizer into a tiger who was mauling his keeper; the drug took enough time to take effect to ensure the keeper's death).
But there is a lesson in Harambe's death I have not heard mentioned. Obedience. The young boy, according to eye witness accounts, was told by his mother and a bystander NOT to try to go in with the gorillas, as he said he wanted to. The mother, busy with other children, did not notice her son as he ignored her instructions. As he proceeded through the barrier, he also ignored another woman's warnings, then fell into the moat, where Harambe zeroed in on him.
I see many parents who seem to feel that obedience to their commands is optional. Whether it's "No, you can't have any more gummi worms right now" or "No, you can't go into the gorilla's pen," the child has learned that his mother probably doesn't really mean it. He always manages to snatch another handful of candy, or get another half-hour in the pool, or not have to sit next to his brother if he just pushes it enough.
Many parents allow these defeats, telling themselves that it's not that big a deal. But the story of Harambe brings the error of this approach into painfully sharp focus. For centuries children have been taught to obey their parents for their own safety. A habit of doing what you're told must be formed as the stakes rise in the child's life and more and more dangers present themselves. "No, you may not go out in the backyard" can one day be as important as "You may not beat on the fallen hornets' nest." Or worse.
Naturally, no parent can completely ensure that his child will not do something terrifying, especially when they have a very strong-willed tot. But a pattern of ignoring one's parents from a young age is almost sure to have serious consequences of one kind or another as the years go by. And since this little boy's willfulness led to the death of a magnificent silver-back gorilla, imagine his own difficulty in the years ahead as he grapples with the fact that his stubborn behavior brought about the shooting of the captive--and no doubt confused--gorilla.
Harambe reminds all parents to please, as the old song says, "Teach your children well."