Harambe, a silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, was shot and killed May 28, 2016, after a 4-year-old boy fell into his enclosure.
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden via Facebook

In your title you imply that many people have dumb opinions. Are you saying that people are generally stupid?

I’m not saying that. I’m not not saying it. But I’m definitely not saying it. What I am saying is that none of us is immune to dumb opinions. Even the smartest and most aware of us can suffer from a lapse in judgment or a belief in misinformation, or be unaware of an intellectual blind spot, or even allow our feelings and/or our feelings about ourselves to cloud our judgments. As a very wise man once said, there are a trillion ways to squeeze an orange, but only one will get you juice.

A wise man said that? Who?

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Me. Just now.

I see. So basically, it’s not really people’s fault if they occasionally have dumb-ass opinions?

Correct. Bad opinions are basically intellectual herpes. Even those who don’t think they have them probably do but just find a way to keep them suppressed.

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It’s only your fault if you do three things:

1. Make a habit of it.

2. Be presented with the right information but make the conscious decision to stay wrong.

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3. Attempt to shame and/or insult others with your wrongness.

The worst of these three is No. 3, since there are few things a person can do that’s less irritating than being loud, wrong and judgmental at the same damn time. It’s like eating a salad with microwaved lettuce. And after reading and listening to some of the takes on what should and shouldn’t have happened with Harambe the Gorilla and the kid and the kid’s parents, there are quite a few No. 3s out there, infesting and invading status messages, comment threads and Memorial Day weekend conversations with judgy stupidity.

Care to expound?

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The collective reaction to this story can be distilled into two separate discussion/debate points:

1. What should have happened to the gorilla?

2. Whose fault is this?

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The first point hasn’t seen as much judgy stupidity. Sane people seem to agree that it’s unfortunate the gorilla had to die, but also that something should have been done to prevent Harambe from harming the child. (And no, I do not consider people who believe animals have the same rights as humans to be “sane.”)

It also has seemed to reinvigorate a conversation about animal rights and the moral rightness of zoos even existing. As many safeguards as we can put in place, this—children finding their way into a dangerous animal’s space—seems to be less anomaly than inevitability. Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough. And when you combine this with the moral ambiguity of removing animals from their natural habitats just so we can throw peanuts and make faces at them, you’re left with some very valid questions.

So where are the dumb-ass opinions?

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The dumb-ass opinions are largely a result of attempting to assign blame for all this. Specifically, they mostly exist as people piling blame on the kid’s mother and inserting their own opinions about what they would and wouldn’t have done in that situation.

How is this a dumb-ass opinion, though? I mean, isn’t it right to blame the child’s caretaker if the child almost got mauled by Curious George? What am I missing here?

Um, Curious George was a monkey. The most “curious little monkey.” Not a gorilla.

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Are you going to answer my question?

Could the parent have prevented this from happening if she were more vigilant? Definitely. No one would dispute that. The issue is the judgmental assumption some people—parents and nonparents—have that this could never have happened to them. That they’re either the perfect parent or the perfect hypothetical parent; a mindset that conveniently neglects to consider the most valuable lesson in parenting.

What’s that?

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S—t happens. Of course, you plan and wish and hope and pray and act and react to lessen the chance of s—t happening and the damage done when the s—t that happens, happens. But s—t is going to happen. You will take your eye off of your child for a second. And you hope that in that second, he’s still where he was a second before. But maybe in that second he put a nail in his mouth. Or picked up some scissors. Or touched a button on your phone that ended up dialing that dude you planned to never, ever, ever call again. Or has s—t in his hand and threw it at you because he thought it was funny.

I have a 6-month-old daughter who’s pretty immobile at this point, and even she can get into some s—t after just four or five seconds of not having attention paid to her.

So, if people are generally aware of parenting’s inherent “s—t happens” dynamic, why are people giving this mom such a hard time?

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Because we have a tendency to look for opportunities to create hierarchies and place ourselves near the top. It’s a way of giving ourselves a status, of making ourselves a bit better than we really are by placing people below us. And this is a perfect opportunity to do that, to say “Well, at least I know I’m a better parent than she is.” Which may very well be true. But that’s impossible to determine from this single incident, especially when considering that it could have been you. And if s—t happens to happen to you in the wrong place at the wrong time, then it could actually be you.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com.