"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 21, 2013
A Voice in a Chinese Zoo, and a Bitter Memory of Silence
by Jeff Lindsay

As a stranger and guest in China, I've tried very hard to not make a fuss and generally just quietly accept the way (or rather, the many ways) people do things here. I don't want to offend or ruffle feathers.

Trying to be a good and humble visitor has meant biting my lip on many occasions. Today, though, I couldn't keep quiet and chewed out someone. Actually two different parties on two occasions for the same offense. And it felt great, though difficult and awkward. It felt and seemed like the right thing, and I could see others were glad someone spoke up.

We were at the Wild Animal Park in southern Shanghai, a large sprawling complex with wild animals you can view from a bus that goes into their territory. It also has more traditional zoo displays you walk around, along with numerous signs warning people not to feed the animals.

While watching a gorilla in his somewhat natural area, I was astonished to see that he was attempting to eat an aluminum can that someone had thrown to him. Then I noticed a pile of food packaging garbage in front of him, and lots of plastic bottles on the grass and in the water of the moat around his area.

Then, to my shock, I saw another bottle go flying over the moat into the grass near the gorilla. I looked over at the young man, maybe 22 years old, who had thrown it, and sensed that he was getting ready to throw more. At this point, I dropped my "ambassador of niceness" pose and spoke out.

I walked over to him and in a loud voice, heard by several dozen people, I gave this lecture in Chinese, drawing upon several recent additions to my vocabulary: "Hey, don't throw garbage in there. That's unacceptable. It can hurt and kill the animals. This is uncivilized behavior and I really can't stand it. We need to show respect for natural (sic! here I used the wrong word, "natural" instead of "nature," but he seemed to understand). I'm sorry about this, but I have to say something."

The young man was surprised, maybe shocked, especially to get a lecture from a foreigner, but was respectful and looked very embarrassed at what he had done. I think he understood. It felt great to get that off my chest. An older man nodded vigorously and thanked me as I laid into the garbage flinger, and I could see others were grateful that someone, finally, had said something. But why did it have to be a foreigner? I am glad, however, that I was not alone.

Here's the gorilla:

A few minutes later at an alligator exhibit, I saw an apparently wealthy man and his wife or girlfriend throw in a chicken sandwich wrapped in foil and plastic, trying to hit a resting crocodile and stir up a little action.

Somehow I just didn't want to cause trouble again, but I could see that the woman was preparing to throw in another sandwich or hamburger in a plastic bag and felt once again that I couldn't just stand there, so I quickly went over and gave a shorter version of the lecture: "Hey, that's unacceptable. That garbage is unhealthy and can kill the animals. Don't do that."

She nodded and seemed to get it, but I hung around a little longer because I didn't trust her and her friend or friends. They noticed I was watching and resisted the impulse to throw stuff at the animals.

Many foreigners have observed that people throwing food and garbage to the animals in Chinese zoos is an outrage that needs to be stopped. I wish the authorities would pay attention to this problem more thoroughly.

(Tip: A few garbage flingers dragged away in handcuffs and shown on the evening news would really help! Word travels fast in China.)

I hope the people I lectured today and those who heard the lectures will think more carefully in the future and help others to know that abusing animals like that is bad for the animals, bad for nature and ugly for China.

Bitter Failure on Mission Street

It felt good to speak out, awkward as it was. As glad as I was to have done something that felt right, it also stirred up one of the most painful memories in my life, a time when I should have spoken out in the midst of another crowd but was too afraid.

(For those very few of you who put me on a pedestal because I'm an LDS apologist of something, you can skip my embarrassing revelation below and just click on the donation button at the right instead.)

This was many years ago when I was in San Francisco on a business trip. It was the night before I was to give an important presentation at a large conference as a representative of my employer. I had a little time and thought I would walk along famous Mission Street around the corner from my hotel to see what was there.

I soon heard and saw a group of maybe four very tough-looking men, a gang I think, following a severely overweight woman and mocking her cruelly. Hundreds of people were there on this crowded street, observing this abuse and doing nothing. Nothing. Not a word. Not a sign of courage. Is that how my nation has become?

I scanned the crowd walking nearby to see if anyone shared my concern and outrage, and felt totally alone in that bustling, indifferent mass of humanity. I suspected that if anyone was going to help, it had to be me, but I couldn't get my fear out of my head, and specifically fear of my boss:

"You couldn't speak at the conference why? What were you doing getting into trouble and getting beaten up in a rough city like that? Why were you out on the street at night? How irresponsible! And what happened to your nose?"

A ridiculous, selfish, petty concern, but that was the fear going through my head, almost more severe than the fear of being physically hurt. I tried to come up with some safe way of helping, gradually trying to stand between them and the girl and maybe slow them down or something, maybe distract them, but what was needed was quick and courageous action.

Merely yelling a simple, "Hey, leave her alone!" might have been all that was needed, some voice to let that poor woman know that someone cared and that she was not as alone and rejected as she felt.

Maybe there were a dozen others like me who would have been thrilled to find someone give them courage to also speak out. But I kept us all separated and alone, silenced with indecision and fear. Is that how my nation has become? Or was it just how I became?

I was trying to find a way to help that wouldn't get me hurt or in trouble, but before I could crawl my way to any kind of action, the gang took a turn down some other street to find some new victims to torture, and a lonely hurting woman returned home alone and in pain.

I saw the pain on her face for a moment. I will not forget it. It's a memory of failure that haunts me to this day. One of many sins and mistakes in my life, but one that I count among my most painful failures. There are many other failures and perhaps many that should be causing me more shame than that memory, but that sin of omission on the ironically named Mission Street is one I can't and don't want to forget.

What a chance that was to make a difference and show a little faith and charity, but I did nothing. Worthless. May I be prepared and more faithful the next time it's my turn to speak out.

Yes, I have sought to repent and believe that the grace of Christ has washed that sin away, like many others. I also hope and pray that the Lord was able to help that woman who needed but didn't receive any help from me. I hope she overcame the pain inflicted that night and can forget. But I don't want to forget it, I can't just let it go, because there is a lesson about my weakness that I don't want to overlook.

I want to be stronger next time. Faster, more prepared, more willing to help. I don't want to let fear stop me from doing what's right as it has too many times.

I hope I have learned from that failure, though I'm not completely sure. I'm actually still afraid of how I'll handle the next unexpected challenge when I suddenly find myself feeling very alone and frightened in a crowd. I hope we'll all be more ready the next time someone needs our courage and help on our personal Mission Street.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.

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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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