Personal Growth

Elephants and Ropes

I heard an interview from an ex-circus animal trainer, from some backlogged file on NPR. The interview struck me as pertinent to all of us writers (and wanna be writers), creatives, and the like. I don’t think it was the interviewer’s purpose to speak to anything higher than to relay his professional experience, but he certainly did.

In the interview, he went over, in boring tones, the ins and outs of how they controlled elephants. He said, he never used electric prods, or spiked mandibles, or tranquilizers.

No. Instead, he used a thin nylon rope. (You know, the kind you can get on the cheap at your local hardware store. )

The immediate, and obvious, question came from the host: How can that control an elephant? Heavens, the thing is strong enough to plow the whole tent down. You expect me to believe that a HUGE elephant couldn’t snap a nylon rope on a whim?

His answer in response was poignant, and shockingly simple. He said: Yes.

Absolutely, the elephant could snap the rope, or pull it free from its trainer’s hands at will, and thrash everyone in the room to death.

But the elephant doesn’t. Why?

animals-black-high-qualityThe trainer went on to explain that the elephant, since it was a few weeks old, was tethered with a single nylon rope. The baby elephant, being scared and paranoid of the rope, pulled against it. It struggled, it yelled, it rebelled. For weeks, the baby elephant would test the rope. And, because it was just a little baby, it failed. Its handlers could easily restrain the small elephant with the thin  line. They’d even, at night, stake the end of that line in the ground, and l let the elephant test the nylon rope all night, if it willed it.The important point was that no matter what, they trainers were always sure to make it where the elephant never won. It always failed.

The baby elephant, try as it might, could never conqueror the rope. And, as weeks go by, the elephant would simply stops trying. By the point where the elephant concedes to the rope’s power over it, the rope has already worn away at its young mind.

The creature’s surrender so complete that is doesn’t stop in the animal’s infancy, but continues on into adulthood. Forever after, the elephant goes on believing in the authority its rope has over it, convinced since childhood that it is just not strong enough to break free of it.

Reality doesn’t matter. The fact that the animal has grown to over two-tons, and could snap ten ropes at once, never factors in its mind. No. When the elephant sees its rope, it bows to its power–to the point that even a small child could lead the behemoth around a ring, daintily, by the thin cord.  The elephant, sometimes, can become very attached to its rope, in fact. The trainer cited a few instances where the elephant wasn’t rested, or couldn’t sleep unless tied down. The object of its oppression, became its comforter. The rope wasn’t just simply  a rope in the elephant’s mind, it was its rope.

This made me think about myself, and my fellow writers/creatives. How many ropes exist in our realities?

Are there things that we’ve accepted, from a very long time ago, possibly when we were at our most weak and vulnerable, as unmovable truths? Were these things, like the elephant, that at the time we rebelled against, but slowly over time we were worn down by, and grew to accept?

Now, I’ve like the elephant, outgrown many old truths about myself–the only difference would be that I grew to see how the old constraints were inefficient in holding down a fully formed adult woman. And, perhaps, there are a few more ropes I’m still staring down, tiptoeing on the line to test the strength of.

I can think of some friends and colleagues who are utterly unaware of how brilliant they are. It would seem, that somewhere along their path they were tested, and prodded until they could no longer believe in their own power…and now that they have grown into strong, brilliant individuals, they can’t see how much strength they’ve gained over the passage of time. It wouldn’t take but a flip of a finger and the rope would be torn under the weight they’ve gained, both mentally and spiritually, as they’ve matured…but they don’t. They still get hung up on the perception that ropes aren’t breakable for me. Because, like the elephant, a rope used to bind us as children at some point can go from being merely a rope, into OUR rope.

You don’t like it. It is ugly. You hate it. But it is yours. It brings you comfort because it is a constant in life. People are hard to change, and sometimes perceived definitions of self are hard to rewrite.

The question does come to mind: Where would you be without your rope? Sure, it sucks, and it is heavy and cruel, but it’s always been there. What would life be like without it? You’ve never known life without it. You know what life, though as oppressive as it is, is like with it…but a life without it is the unknown. People are strange (me included)–they will thoroughly embrace a hellish reality, to avoid an uncertain possibility.

I can only speak from my truth and my experiences. The rope is a ruse. We are no longer children. We are no longer dependent and pliable. We can rewrite our own standards in life, and that standard can be baggage free. Our careers can only flourish, the ways in which we dream they should, when we have a ropeless existence.

We are bigger now. We can snap ropes. We can tear down entire tents…we can run a’muck.

There is nothing more beautiful in this world than an artist running a’muck, after all.

 

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