Are You Chaining Your Elephant?

I bet you don’t know how elephants are trained.

I didn’t, until I read the method in a book recently and was floored. Here’s how it works:

A baby elephant is placed on a chain that is staked to the ground. The chain is substantial, and although baby elephants are not small by any means, they’re also not quite mammoth enough to pull a big chain from the ground.

So, every time the baby elephant tries to roam, or wander, or (more proactively) break the hell free from its restraints, it can’t. It’s stuck. And after enough times of trying and trying and getting nowhere, eventually the little trooper gives up and realizes he’s beat. That chain ain’t lettin’ him get anywhere. So he stops trying.

Fair enough. Seems like a logical conclusion.

But here’s the kicker: When that little pachyderm grows up into a big, hulking, people-crushing adult, it still thinks the chain is stronger than it is.

At this point, it could very easily take an angry running start and yank that puppy clean out of the ground, setting itself free and trampling any trainers, circus-goers or other smaller mammals that try to get in its path.

Just a yank or two. And it’s free.

But it doesn’t even try, because it’s learned that being chained means being trapped. Never mind the size of the chain. It doesn’t even try to break free, because in its (admittedly not mammoth-sized) mind, “chain = stuck.”

If it tried? It would pleasantly surprised.

But it doesn’t. And it won’t. Because elephants, as they say, never forget.

 

You Are Not an Elephant

This whole training process seems ludicrous, right? (And more than a little sad?)

I mean, this big, wild, super-strong animal is held captive by a tiny little chain simply because it’s been trained to believe the chain is stronger than it is. It’s the equivalent of you being fixed to one spot in your yard by a rope of Silly String, because someone when you were 5 once told you, “That thing will hold you in place, no matter what.”

Except, it’s not so ludicrous.

Because every day, we’re held in place by equally flimsy chains, courtesy of negative training much like our floppy-eared friends.

We don’t bother trying for that dream or that position or that gorgeous guy or girl, because we know we’re not good enough. We’ve been told so. We’ve failed before. Failure seems to be our thing, so why bother?

We’re glued to our miserable cubes for 40 hour a week because we don’t see anyone else trying to break free, so we assume it can’t be done. There must be no other options. This is just The Way Things Are. We learn to deal because that’s what good, well-adjusted grownups appear to do.

We let ourselves be bound and limited by fears, anxieties, insecurities, anger we’ve been holding onto all our lives, because they’ve become internal narratives we don’t even realize we’re telling ourselves. Like subliminal messages, they influence us without our even realizing it, and we never think to fight back because we don’t realize there’s anything to fight against.

The trainers have got us.

Whether it’s our own inner hang-ups, cultural expectations or bad things that have happened in the past, we tend to operate in the same tiny little patch of life, never imagining it’s possible to move further, let alone that we have it in us to do so.

But we do. More than we may realize.

 

 Break Free

We have in us the potential for infinite progression.

When we were little, we were wise to this. We knew we could become astronauts, or doctors, or prima ballerinas because we saw the world for what it was: a playground of possibilities just waiting for us to start experimenting with our options.

So we experimented. We tried a million different things and learned about ourselves and didn’t let grownup silliness limit us because the adults were still letting us have our fun before “reality” hit.

But as we got older, we got the chain training. We learned the parameters of what could and could not be done– what was acceptable, what was expected, how to operate within the confines of the world as it had been parceled and boundaried out for us.

We learned to fit in — to boxes, to predefined expectations, to our own biases about our faults and weaknesses, to what “the average person” did in “the real world.”

Except the real world has always been much bigger than we’ll ever be able to explore, and none of us is as small as we’re led to believe “the average person” is. We just stop seeing that after enough training to respect the chain, no questions please.

 

Well, Fuck That. Fuck It Hard

You are a mammoth, people-crushing ball of possibilities, and you have the power to roam wheresoever the hell you choose in this great adventure called life.

Are you really going to keep puttering around your same little circle, thanking life for the peanuts it throws you while you’re one good lunge away from infinite possibilities?

I don’t think you should. Because you know the secret now. You know the chain has no power except the power you give it in your mind.  (Tweet, tweet!)

And once you know that? It’s awful hard to keep respecting the chain.

What’s keeping you bound to the same tiny circles? What can you do to break free?

 

Image:  Flickr

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  • I love this post! I remember learning about this way of training elephants about a year ago and being amazed by it. Since then I’ve been incredibly amazed at how human-like elephants are so it makes sense that we share this psychological restriction. Did you know that elephants have funerals? And they are so social that a lone elephant in South Korea learned how to augment his vocal cords with his trunk so that he could say Korean words he heard his trainers say? We’re not all that different after all.

  • janice

    What a FANTASTIC ass-kicking article. I love this quote: “You are a mammoth, people-crushing ball of possibilities, and you have the power to roam wheresoever the hell you choose in this great adventure called life.”

    Hell to the mother-f*ckin’ YEAH! 🙂

  • Terra Pfund Kroll

    I fucking love this post, so hard.
    And I love Elephants- and the training of them makes me really sad.

    • I know, right? I wanted to run to every zoo and circus in my possible vicinity after reading that to let all the elephants free.

  • Wow that is so much like life. Really depressing for the elephants as well.

    An elephant really needs to start a blog like this and tell all the other elephants that it can break the chain and live a free and fulfilled life. (If Only)

    Anyways lol. We truly are told from a young age to be realistic. Creativity is stifled and dreams are crushed. Society creates carbon copies. But luckily we have the internet and the slow evolution towards individuality is growing. I’m happy to be a part of it. 🙂

    • And an awesome part of it you are!

  • Really sad for the elephants, and down-right silly for us people!
    There’s this other point to make, too: If we all settle for “average”,the average keeps going down.

    • Awesome point! That’s a blog post in itself (adding to ideas doc now…you shall receive credit!) 🙂

      • Thank you, thank you!

        ~ Guess that means I need to put something on *my* blog that’s newer than July, eh?

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