What we can learn from this gorilla business

“When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.”-Earl Nightingale

If you are not the type to follow the news, or scroll endlessly through facebook, or peruse twitter, or otherwise live under a rock, maybe you have not heard about the shooting of a gorilla, Harambe, at a zoo in Ohio after a young boy fell into his confinement. I won’t dare go into all of the debates that have come from the incident over whether we should have zoos and animals in confinement, over the mother’s parenting, etc.

But I will say that this is a clear example of how the internet opens up a space for us to pass judgment, vocally, in a way that I don’t think we would be comfortable doing in person. I wonder how many of the people calling the mother of the boy a bad mother would go up to the face of a woman whose child was just in a somewhat terrifying situation and tell her that she sucks. But if you take a tour of the internets and the comments on the story about the incident, you’ll see that people have no filter when it comes to offering their opinions via the internet. Would you walk up to any mother who has made a mistake—or not—and offer her colourful words about her parenting abilities as a complete stranger? How about advice or criticism to someone about their body?

I think social media serves a great purpose and brings people together, but I think we need to step back when we feel ourselves ready to chime in and beat someone up for whatever it is they’re doing or not doing that we know only through the lens of media. I catch myself wanting to jump into debates over the things I am passionate about and when I’m fired up, I can even want to write things that are far more personal than anything I would be able to say to a person standing in front of me. Ask yourself, Would I say this to their face? And before you hit enter and post your next angry comment, I hope you can ask yourself not only that question, but also, What do I get out of posting this?

In the high schools I’ve been in, I’ve realized just how serious a problem cyber bullying can be. We hear about it a lot, but I think it might be one of those things so many people don’t stop to really think about or define. And unfortunately, I think it has snuck up on us and that many of us are guilty of it—whether we mean to be bullies or not. And just like the kids on the playground who were insecure and took it out on other people, I think any time we feel like bringing someone else down is a chance for us to realize that we might be feeling a little insecure ourselves. Often, what we get out of posting something mean is a sense of superiority, or a way to build ourselves up in a temporary way in an area of our lives where we feel uncertain. The final question I’d suggest we ask ourselves is, What kind of a person do I want to be in the world? Chances are, nobody would answer that with “a bully.”

Act accordingly.