A few weeks ago I was perusing the news online when I came across a headline about a rhinoceros attack. I normally find the news either incredibly infuriating or simply plain boring, but this article piqued my interest. On January 12th, a woman from South Africa was gored by a rhinoceros while on her honeymoon. She and her husband had been vacationing in a nature reserve and were out on a jeep tour when the tour guide told them to pop out of the car so he could get their photo with some rhinoceros standing nearby. The couple was apprehensive, but the guide assured them it would be fine. Just after the guide snapped the photo, the woman was gored from behind by the male rhino. She was hospitalized for a collapsed lung and some broken ribs but will recover. She was lucky.
These type of incidents are teaching moments for me. I’m continually telling my children that wild animals are wild animals. I recently showed them a video of tourists in Yellowstone who were walking on a boardwalk too close to a bison. Now, perhaps they thought that bison understand the right of way implied by a boardwalk and that this bison, therefore, would yield the way with perfect etiquette. The bison, however, not giving a flying fig about the human-placed boardwalk in the middle of its territory, charged at them. They all escaped unscathed, but at the end of the video an adult is shown laughing at the whole chase, as if it’s just a cute story. I shake my head.
I wonder about humanity sometimes. I wonder whether we’re bright enough to survive. My children hear me comment to this effect quite often. They hear my tales of rhinoceros attacks and charging bison and understand my disdain for the truly inane things people do sometimes. First thing this morning, Joe came into my room carrying a small, model rhino, which he set on the bathroom counter.
“I was just thinking about that lady who got attacked by that rhino. What was she thinking?” he said. “I mean, seriously. Why would you even get that close to a rhinoceros? They weigh over a ton and have two sharp horns.”
“I don’t know, Joe,” I replied.
“They’re not house pets. They’re wild animals. WILD animals. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”
At this point I was feeling proud that Joe understood the point I had tried to get across by telling them that story. I was patting myself on the back for a job well done.
“I just don’t know what she was thinking,” he went on.
“Well, I guess that because the guide said it would be fine the couple assumed it really would be. But, I’m with you. I would not choose to stand within feet of one of those animals. I like to think I’d know better,” I said.
“I’d know better,” he said. “She was just stupid,” Joe announced.
When he said this, it at last occurred to me that Joe was repeating verbatim what I had said out loud to myself when I was reading the news story that day. I was blown away by the complete lack of common sense this couple had shown. I know that people have a difficult time with perceived authority in situations when they feel they are being pressured, but isn’t there a point when you realize the danger and simply step away from the rhino? Still, I’m not teaching the right lesson if along with the animal safety tip he’s hearing my commentary that people who stand with rhinos might not be the sharpest knives in the drawer. So, I attempted to correct my misstep.
“Joe, maybe you should try to be more kind? It’s not as if she set out that day to be gored by a rhino. It just happened. Someday you might do something stupid and need some understanding,” I suggested.
“Probably not that stupid,” came his instant reply.
I didn’t know how to respond to that comment. On the one hand, he obviously missed my point about being kind, and that’s not good. But, on the other hand, I agree that he is clever enough to know you don’t get within feet of a rhinoceros. I have high hopes that he would be on the winning end of a Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest contest. In the end, I decided that all I could do was drop it for now and try to do a better job of not constantly commenting about humans performing stupid human tricks.
When I see in my children the worst of myself I am reminded that, especially when I’m not paying attention, I’m setting an example for them every day. I teach them as much with my snarkiness and impatience as I do with my generosity and love. If I could only figure out a way to get them to tune me out when I’m not at my best, I might be able to raise children who would be forgiving and kind and who also would know well enough to just step away from the rhino.