There was a tragic accident. What now?

Today I want to share a piece that my friend Betsy Johnson wrote regarding the recent news story involving Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

This story about Harambe has been weighing on my mind all day. I am distressed about the whole situation. Harambe was, by all accounts, a beautiful and endangered creature. He will be missed by all who knew him and his death is a tragic accident. 

Tragic. Accident.

I have read Facebook friends’ comments about how horrible this little boy’s mother must be. They have been called child killers. They have been told they are not fit to be parents. They have been told they should be in jail. I have watched the same videos as everyone else. I have read the same reports of the incident. The mother was doing everything right calling out to her son, telling him she loved him, trying to keep him calm. It was terrifying. Did she make a mistake? Yes. Did that mistake have a tragic outcome? Yes. Could you or I have done the same? YES.

Let’s face it. We’ve been lucky. I have a friend whose child climbed out of her crib, crawled downstairs and was in the kitchen all in the 3 min when her mom was in the bathroom. I have a friend whose child walked out of school and got home before the school realized he was gone. I myself led a babysitter upstairs to teach her how to use our strange tub faucet so she could give our child a bath only to realize my own child (age 2) had walked out of the house and started down the street. I have a friend whose daughter cracked her head open falling from a slide. Her mom was right there; it just happened so quickly. None of us are bad parents. Things happen in the blink of an eye.

Let’s be clear. There are bad parents out there. They willfully neglect or abuse their child or put them in harm’s way. In this case, there was no indication that the mom was abusive or neglectful prior to this incident. There is no indication of anything. This was a mom with other kids, who was distracted for a moment. Like we all are many times a day. Children can’t always be watched, even by the most competent of parents. While I can’t speak about the competence of the parents of the boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure, I can say with certainty that there is no parent out there who has never looked away from his or her child for even a moment.

A petition on with more than 300,000 signatures states the following:
“This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy's parents did not keep a closer watch on the child. We the undersigned believe that the child would not have been able to enter the enclosure under proper parental supervision. … We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child's safety is paramount in this situation. ...We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child's home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.”

Come ON!

I can’t help but observe also…we as parents are constantly being berated for being what is termed helicopter parenting. That we are coddling and micromanaging our children so that they can’t learn to be independent. But when something goes wrong, we are automatically blamed as not being attentive enough. So, either way, it’s our fault.

If we want a kinder, gentler community, it needs to start with us. Sometimes, there is no one to blame. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. We, as a community, need to start with compassion, not judgment. 

-- By Betsy K. Johnson, written May 31, 2016