You know those stories that make you think – perhaps depress you a tiny bit but also encourage you to more your butt and do something better?
This is one of those….
A story of elephants, ropes and choices.
“When I was a small boy, I loved going to the circus. Animal acts were my favorite. I was quite impressed by the elephant, who is — as I found out later — the favorite animal of all children. The elephant’s part of the show was a display of his huge weight, his immense size and power… Then, as the show was approaching its end, slightly before the elephant had to return to his tent, he was standing tied to a tiny wooden stake driven partially into the ground. A chain was wrapped around his feet.
The size of the stake was very small, and the part of it that was driven into the ground was even smaller. The chain that was wrapped around the legs of the elephant was quite large, but it seemed quite obvious, even to my childish mind, that an animal whose power was so large, so immense that it could rip trees off the ground and hurl them to others, was more than enough to let the elephant just rise and walk away.
That was the mystery of the elephant. What sort of immense force could keep the elephant tied to that tiny stake? Why didn’t he rise and walk away?
When I was five or six years old, I put great trust in the wisdom of the elder people. So I asked my teacher, my father, and my uncle about the mystery of the elephant. I don’t remember anymore who gave me the particular answer, but one of the replies was that the elephant doesn’t run away because he is “tame”. Then I asked the obvious question: “If he’s tame, why do they have to chain him?” I don’t think I ever got a satisfactory answer to this question.
As time went by, I forgot all about the mystery of the huge elephant and the tiny stake. The mystery would only resurface when I was at the company of others who had wondered about the same thing. Then, a few years ago, I discovered that someone knew why the elephant doesn’t run away.
The elephant doesn’t run away because they have been tying him to a similar stake ever since he was very very small too. I closed my eyes, and I tried to imagine the small, newborn elephant, chained to the ground. The small elephant would push, pull and struggle with all his strength, trying to free himself, but he would fail. Despite all his efforts, he would fail again and again, because that stake and chain was too big for his strength.
The elephant would sleep exhausted from all his efforts to free himself, and would wake up the next day. All his struggles would fail the next day too, and a third day, and a fourth, and many tiresome, exhausting days after those. Then one day would come — a horrible day for the history of our elephant — a day that he would just give up, and accept his fate, deciding that he was too weak to escape, that his strength was not enough and would never be enough.
The huge and immensely powerful elephant that we see in the circus does not run away because the poor animal believes that he cannot do that. The memory of the lack of strength he felt a little after his birth is now deeply engraved to his very soul and spirit.
The worst of it all is that he has never tried to free himself since.
He never ever tried to test his powers again.”
(Jorge Bucay in Let me tell you a story)
If you are anything like me, at first you get all depressed and you think about poor little elephant.
Then you start overthinking it a bit and you go like “damn, elephant, how stupid are you? just move your ass out of that rope” and you get a bit annoyed with the elephant.
Then perhaps somewhere in the back of your overthinking mind you realise that is not just the elephant – that we too have so many ropes on us. A bit different ropes – but ropes nevertheless! Some of those are the ropes of the society about how we should act and how we should live our lives, others are ropes of consumerism that is shouting at us what we “need to have”, or perhaps ropes of fears that we never fully faced….
But the worst ones are the ropes of our thinking patterns. Those old old and repetitive thoughts that are part of our mind since forever….and that used to be important (and perhaps even positive for our survival) but that today became a habitual chain of not living our best life.
One of those ropes is “I am not (good) enough”…. then “I do not deserve”. Or “I don’t know how to do that.”, “I am not smart/brave/capable/lucky enough”. Sometimes perhaps “That is not possible to do in my city/country/school/community”. Or even “That is impossible”. Or perhaps “I don’t have time to make this happen” or “I am just too busy (to do/achieve/create/think/try)”. Many, many, many ropes….
One big difference between us and the elephant is that often we do not even notice how many ropes are tangled behind our ankles and prevent us from moving forward.
It is time to discover, notice and untangle some of these!
The first step?
Ask, “What do I truly desire?”
And then ask, “What is stoping me?”
Imagine that that thing is just a little rope. Break the rope. What is your next move?
P.S. the elephant story is from Jorge Bucay’s beautiful book Let Me Tell You a Story: Tales Along the Road to Happiness
– check out the book for more amazing stories
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How about you?
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