The Chained Elephant
When I was little I loved the circus, and what I loved best about the circus were the animals. I was especially enthrealled by the elephant, which, as I later learned, was also the other kids' favorite animal. During the show, the huge beast flaunted his colossal size, weight and strength. But after his performance, and almost until he came back on stage, on of the elephant's legs was always chained to a small post that was staked into the ground.
The post, however, was just miniscule piece of wood simply pounded a few inches into the dirt. And even though the chain itself was big and thick, it seemed obvious that an animal so strong it was capable of uprooting a tree from the ground could easily wrench himself free of this post and take off.
It was a mystery to me.
What kept him from doing it?
Why didn't he run away?
When I was five of six years old, I still had faith in the wisdom of my elders. So I asked a teacher, or a parent, or an uncle, to explain the mystery of the elephant to me. And on of them explained to me that the elephant didn't run away because it was trained.
So I asked the obvious question. "If it's trained, why do they need to chain it up at all?"
I don't ever recall having received a coherent answer. In time, I forgot all about the elephant and the stake, and it only occured to me when I encountered other people who had wondered the same thing.
A few years ago, I found out that, luckily for me, someone had actually been wise enough to find the answer:
The circus elephant doesn't run away because he's been chained to a stake like that since he was very, very little.
I closed my eyes and pictured the helpless, newborn elephant chained to the post. I'm sure that, back then, the little baby elephant pushed and pulled and sweated in his attempt to break free. And despite his efforts, he couldn't do it, because back then that stake was too strong for him.
I pictured him falling asleep, exhausted, and then trying again the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. Until, one day - a terrible day in the life of the little elephant - the animal accepted his powerlessness and resigned himself to his fate.
The huge, powerful elephant we see at the circus doesn't run away because - poor thing - he thinks he can't.
The memory of the powerlessness he felt when he was just a little baby is still etched in his mind.
And the worst thing is that he has never really questioned that memory.
He never, ever again tried to test his strength...