Tag Archive for: Cecil the Lion

Cecil the Lion – Why the Outpouring of Sympathy?

Across the globe there has been outrage expressed over the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion. It’s been front and center in the news and all over social media. It’s led to the outing of the Minnesota dentist, his business address and even death threats. So why is there such outrage over an animal’s death when innocent people are killed every day and some in much more horrific fashion?

We don’t value lions inherently because they’re beautiful creatures. Indeed, not too long ago those who hunted them as big game were revered. President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, was one such man. We’re concerned about Cecil more because the principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that we value things more when they’re rare or diminishing.

At this point in time, with lions being an endangered species, we fear losing these creatures for good.

Did you know in Chicago, 238 people have been shot and killed from January through July of this year? Think about that for a moment – 238 people (fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters) dead. Why isn’t there more outrage over that? As the brutal Russian dictator Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” The sad reality is we become numb to large numbers.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, cites studies that highlight this reality.

It would seem rational that people would give more to help a cause when they realize how big the problem is but that’s not the case. People do not donate as much to a cause when the magnitude is highlighted versus individualizing it. By that I mean, telling people hundreds or thousands of people need help will not be as effective in soliciting donations as highlighting one individual who needs help. We can connect with an individual but highlighting the magnitude of a problem can seem so overwhelming that one person’s effort can’t possibly make much of a difference.

Something else to consider is that humans have a capacity to normalize things like death. Victor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search for Meaning shows this. A survivor of four different concentration camps, Frankl talks about how he and others became less and less affected by the death and destruction around them.

Had they felt the weight of each death it would have been too overwhelming so their response in many ways was a survival mechanism.

And some people wonder why we would ever care more about an animal than a human. That goes back thousands of years. Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for healing a man on the Sabbath. He scolded them saying they would pull an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath but helping a man was far more important.

Lastly, we value some animals more than others because with some animals we have more of a connection. Lions are the “king of the jungle” and have become more than an animal through shows like The Lion King and The Chronicles of Narnia. The same could be said of other animals such as pigs (Miss Piggy from The Muppets or Babe from the movie with the same name) and dogs (man’s best friend).

So what’s the point in this post? Simply to enlighten you a little on the psychology behind the response to Cecil’s death and the questions that are being asked about the deaths of other animals, individuals and groups of people. Our responses to these tragedies don’t always make sense from a logical perspective but it’s how we’re wired.