Cecil the Lion: Beneath the Outrage

by Gail Jankovski on August 1

I spend a lot of time on social media. It’s how I keep in touch with my colleagues here at Spiraling Up, and of course as writers, it’s how we keep up on events and trends around the world. I am also passionate about animal rights, so of course I was all over #CecilTheLion as it unfolded.

At first, it was gratifying. My main focus is farm animal rights, but any cause or event that has animal rights and welfare in the news is bound to have spill over, and is good news for me. Despite the tragic circumstances, scores of people voicing their outrage at the senseless killing of a lion was sure to awaken a latent feeling of connection and empathy for our animal cousins. Nothing wrong with that in my book, and it is satisfying for me to see people coming together in their condemnation of something abhorrent. All is not lost.

Then anger set in. Anger at the “man” who killed Cecil the Lion, but also anger at those who “trophy hunt” the other beautiful but nameless creatures whose deaths are just as worthy of our outrage as this particular tourist attraction. Anger at those who perpetuate and defend this blood “sport” as a means of conservation, and the twisted system so desperate for conservation funds that sacrificing a few for the protection of many is accepted. So angry in fact, that as I mused to my family that it wouldn’t surprise me if the hunter ended up dead himself, I wasn’t overly disturbed by the possibility.

Today, I’m a little confused. The discourse has been inundated with several variations of the theme “Why are so many people focusing on the death of a lion when *this* horrible thing is happening in the world?” or “How dare you be outraged about something besides the thing I am outraged about?” Aside from the fallacy of relative privation,  I can’t help but wonder if people actually believe that compassion is a limited resource? Does it really follow that because I am outraged about the killing of #CecilTheLion that I don’t care about black lives? Because to me, the opposite seems much more likely. The more compassion that we cultivate in the world, the more we express our connection and empathy with others (human and otherwise), and the better off we will all be. Compassion occurs to me as something that grows and expands the more we use it.

I’m also pensive, and the situation has me thinking about my own choices and judgment. Sure, Mr. Palmer is a dick, we can all agree on that, but what of you and me? Are our consciences clean? I’m not saying that to excuse him; that is the last thing I want. I am saying it in the hope that, as we sit in judgment of something we find horrible, we can at least admit to ourselves that some of our outrage just may be a defensive reaction. I believe that what we see on the outside is a reflection of something within ourselves. Hard as that may be to accept, I also believe in confronting something rather than burying it, despite how tempting the latter may be. Just as those we choose as “heros” reflect the positive qualities we, individually and collectively, wish to embody, is it also possible that those we cast as “villains” may be a reflection, albeit exaggerated, of some perceived flaw within ourselves? Could our outrage be, on some level, a way of masking those flaws?

We all want to believe we are doing the right things. Although I am well aware of the inherent cruelty of our food production industry, in discussions over the last few days, I found myself touting the oft-repeated refrain that the killing of an animal for pleasure, is somehow different, somehow worse, than killing an animal for food. I give people the benefit of the doubt on that particular belief, because it makes sense that killing animals for the purpose of one’s very survival is perfectly acceptable. We can excuse the pain and suffering that went into our meal, because we have a biological need to ingest the nutrients provided, and continue eating our cheeseburgers in peace, while basking in our moral superiority.

But what if, for argument’s sake, we don’t need something for our survival? What if we were consuming something whose production caused as much, or more, pain and suffering than the killing of Cecil the Lion? Because I’m fairly certain that, if suffering could be quantified, that which animals experience in the dairy/veal industry is right up there with what Cecil experienced. I am also fairly certain, that none of us really have an inherent biological need for cheese. But I have often heard it expressed that it is something one “can’t live without”.

But really, why is it that we can’t live without it? Is the few minutes of pleasure for our palates that the taste and texture provides us worth the pain, suffering and death that result from that?  Are the few minutes of thrill that hunters gain from killing a lion worth the pain, suffering and death that result from that? Is there a difference? And where do we draw the line? I don’t have all those answers, but it is food for thought.

When outrage is useful, I’m all for it. It can galvanize people against injustice and be a catalyst for change. But when the outrage dies down, sometimes we are left throwing our hands in the air at our inability to change things. We can’t do anything about the death of this lion, and we may feel that our hands are tied as to how much we can contribute to the somewhat complex issues of animal welfare and conservation in general. But we can use our outrage as a signal to look within, at our own choices and judgements, and ask ourselves if they are still in alignment with who we are. I suspect we will all draw our lines in different places, and I won’t tell you where to draw yours. But I will ask you to take this opportunity to ask yourself if it needs to be redrawn.

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Gail Jankovski

Gail is a certified hypnotist, life coach, and aspiring writer and poet. Her approach to personal development is pragmatic: baby steps are OK—and small changes can add up to big rewards. She also keeps busy as an admin assistant, wife, and mom to three grown children.

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