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A "Bear-Handed" Debate

The conversation was brief, civil and respectful. We made our respective cases, and then discussed the merits of both sides. In the end, we agreed on a judgment, acting adult and professional the entire time. Here’s our decision:

When we encounter a Giant Panda, it’s probably best to simply leave it alone.

The discussion occurred as Joan (the “Awwww, look at him; he’s sooo cute!!!! member of the family) watched Sunday morning television, and I darted from room to room looking for something to do.

As I passed through the kitchen (thinking maybe there was a dishwasher dying to be loaded or emptied), I heard Joan call to me. “Check this out.”

Looking up from whatever I had found to do (certainly nothing worth mentioning since the dishwasher didn’t need any attention at that moment), the TV featured a Giant Panda sliding down a snowy hill (presumably at a zoo and not a local sledding venue or ski resort), appearing to be having the time of its life. (How we would know that I have no idea since Giant Pandas seem to be quite a sullen lot and not much fun at all, if you ask me.)

After we both chuckled at the “feel good” scene of a panda getting his/her “jollies” in the snow, I moved onto doing something else (though I’ll admit that “something” was almost nothing; after all, it was Sunday morning), and Joan went back to watching whatever came up next on her Sunday morning news show.

Moments later, probably during a commercial (which our TV provider sometimes lets us fast-forward through, and sometimes not), Joan mused the following to herself but loud enough for me to hear: “I wonder if you can pet a panda.”

With literally nothing better to do at that moment, I decided to chime in. Starting from a factual basis, my first response was, “I’m sure you can. The question is, should you?”

More moments passed. Then …

Joan: (to herself) “Can a panda kill you?”

Me: “What method are we talking about? With its paws? While driving a car? (I can’t imagine pandas to be good drivers.) By beating you with a club?”

For the record, I knew what she meant when she asked the question, a question, by the way, she hadn’t even asked me; I just couldn’t help myself.

Joan: (ignoring both the interruption and my attempt at levity) “I mean, all they eat is bamboo, right?”

Me: “Right, but just because they don’t eat people doesn’t mean they won’t kill people … I think.”

At this point, I was tempted to list the species I could think of that don’t eat humans but

that I certainly wouldn’t want to meet face-to-face in a confined space because I know they

could, and likely would, kill me if push came to shove. But I didn’t.

Joan: “I’m gonna check.”

At that point, Joan Googled what I assume to be something like, “Can a panda kill a human?” or

maybe, “Do pandas kill people?” or (and this one is a long shot): “Why would something as cute

as a panda kill a person?”

More moments passed as Joan read to herself, but loud enough that I could catch random

words and phrases.

Joan: (mumble, mumble) “… bamboo, OK we already know that …” (mumble, mumble) “… sharp claws …” (mumble, mumble) “… severely damage your legs …” and so on.

Me: “So, what’s the verdict?” I asked. (By that moment, having found nothing to do except bully myself into what had been a pleasant one-person conversation my wife was having with herself, I was fully committed to resolving our “debate.”)

Joan: (a moment later, after concluding her research) “Well, it seems a panda might kill a person, but it’s super rare.”

After collectively breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing that it’s highly unlikely for either of our

lives to be taken at the hands/paws of a Giant Panda, we made our closing statements.

Me: “That said, if we ever come upon a panda – and I have no earthly idea how that would ever happen, and if it did, I’m thinking we’d have an entire list of other things to ‘wonder’ about, not the least of which being ‘How the hell did we get face-to-face with this panda’ – I think we should just assume that even if it didn’t have the desire to kill us, it could if it chose to, and we’re probably best served to NOT pet it (Joan’s original “I wonder” statement) and to simply leave it alone.”

Joan: (already moving onto the next news story yet showing a massive amount of patience for me as I continue to dwell on the issue) “That’s probably a good rule of thumb.”

Then, after successfully pausing and rewinding the show to review the scene again (seriously, I

don’t understand the TV provider “rewind/fast-forward” rules) she made her

final argument for the defense.

Joan: “But look at him … he’s soooo cute!!!!”

It was that last comment that worried me and had me asking the following

question: “The next time we encounter a Giant Panda, will Joan be able to contain herself and

stick to our agreed-upon rule of thumb, or will she compromise the situation and put us all in


The thing is, if anyone can pet a panda without being maimed or killed, it’s Joan.

© 2021 David R. Haznaw

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