The internet and smartphones have been the target of much abuse and blame–millennials and other glued to their phones missing life.
Not this video. This tender moment was captured by a smartphone showing the bond created by a human and a chimp that compellingly illustrates how precious and amazing that relationship can be, specifically the end of life for this animal in its farewell gesture of love that transcends species. Anyone who has had to put their pet to sleep knows this feeling.
It is the last good-bye between a chimp named Mama and her caregiver, biologist Dr. Jan Van Hooff. It is both tearful, touching, and important, showing the emotional depth of animals and their capacity for deep bonds with each other and us. Emotions stretch across species and time. (Full disclosure- this video may tug unwittingly at your heartstrings. It did mine).
In a new book by ethologist Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug–Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the author concludes, rightly in my view, that “emotions are our body’s way of ensuring we do what is best for us.” Unlike instinct — which leads to preprogrammed, rigid responses — emotions “focus the mind and prepare the body while leaving room for experience and judgment.” Emotions “may be slippery,” he writes, “but they are also by far the most salient aspect of our lives. They give meaning to everything,” writes de Waal.
It echoes the thesis in the just-published groundbreaking work by Penn psychologist Martin Seligman, Homo Prospectus.
Stories of human/animal companionship go back to ancient Greek times and are illustrated in the famous tale attributed to Aesop of Androcles and the Lion, where an escaped slave comes upon a wounded lion and instead of fleeing, sees that a thorn is hobbling the King of the Jungle who is moaning in pain. After the thorn is removed, the lion shows its appreciation by rubbing up against Androcles. Later when Androcles is captured, the Emperor decides to teach him a lesson by throwing him in a lion pit. The lion, however, is the same lion that Androcles helped and instead of devouring him, rubs up against him. The Emperor, perplexed beyond reason, pardons Androcles.
Real-life human help for animals abounds but no clearer example exists than this video of a dolphin seeking aid, apparently, from divers after his flipper is entangled in a fishing line. Others exist that should remind us of a greater connection beyond ourselves.
Empathy connects us all. Social media has a high bar to jump over but not an impossible one.