My guess is you’ve heard about Harambe, the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was killed in an effort to save a child that had managed to get into his habitat. This tragic story has led to a firestorm of criticism heaped upon the zoo for alleged poor facility design and intense shaming of–and an online petition against–the child’s mother for supposedly being a horrible parent. There has also been great vitriol spewed at the response team for seemingly being too trigger happy and not opting for a tranquilizer instead.
The one thing I would hope we can agree on is that compassion should be extended to all that had to go through this terrible situation.
I would also hope that we would recognize that we aren’t gorilla behaviorists and our opinions about what Harambe was likely to do simply aren’t worth listening to. Few of us have any educated idea on what a 17 year old male Western Lowland Gorilla’s response to being shot with a tranquilizer might be. A similarly miniscule number of those opining vociferously on social media have ever been trained in emergency response, much less found themselves in an adrenaline-fueled, literally life and death, situation where decisions have to be made with limited information, virtually instantaneously.
The internet and social media are wonderful things. They give us unprecedented and nearly unlimited access to information. But so often we confuse data and opinions with insight, knowledge or the truth.
Social media gives us all a platform. It’s a powerful platform that can be used to promote knowledge, love, compassion and many other kinds of positive and useful messages. But we’ve all seen how it can be a veritable cesspool of misinformation, distortions, outright lies and hate.
Social media often serves as a billboard of our personal brand–a mirror to our belief system and a lens into that which we worship.
In my case, I’ve certainly been guilty of using it to deal with what the Buddhists sometime refer to as shempa. When my ego needs a boost in some way–or I go to a place of fear or discomfort–I’m easily triggered and I often allow myself to be hooked into needing to demonstrate how smart, funny or cool I am. This can be by engaging in self-righteous behavior, putting others down, showing off those things or activities that would cast me in a flattering or interesting light (look where I am! look what I ate! look at this picture of me with a celebrity) and on and on.
I know this will come us a shock, but I’m not a better person because of the hotel I just stayed in, the car that I drive, the dinner I cooked last night or a selfie I took with a Kardashian. Nobody needs a running commentary of my life on Facebook. I’m going to be just fine if you don’t like something I posted. And, as it turns out, I can’t prove that I have the world’s best friends, partner or siblings, despite my exhortations. Neither can you. Though, just so you know, hyperbole is fantastic, amazing, incredible, high energy and the best thing ever.
The fact is almost none of us are gorilla behaviorists, tort lawyers, vaccine specialists, economists, climate change scientists or experts in foreign policy. It so happens I have opinions on how to stop ISIS, improve the US’s aging infrastructure, reform healthcare and for how Hillary can stop dressing like a communist dictator. And you’d be wise to ignore them. And I’d be wise to keep them to myself.
My point is this. A megaphone is sometimes a very handy thing to have. But just because you own one doesn’t mean you should use it all the time.
A hammer has great utility. But not everything is a nail.
And if self-righteousness or ego-boosting is fueling anything you are about to say or do, stop.